24 Nov 10 Authors and self-publishing_A new paradigm
The publishing industry has witnessed a drastic inclusion of digital offerings over the past year. In an earlier article ( ‘Digital Production: an opportunity for Providers ’ published on November 10, 2010), we had talked about the opportunity for providers of publishing services – across production, distribution and digital rights management of content. The implications of incorporating/transitioning to a ‘digital friendly’ offering mix has been well chronicled with the publisher’s perspective, but there is a new phenomenon which is fast growing – that of self-publishing. And this affects how publishers source content.
Traditionally, publishers acquired content from writers and authors – an integral part of any publisher’s workflow. This aspect of the publishing industry transcends the demands of any one segment. Be it the reliance of the magazines and newspapers on freelance and guest writers, or the experts used while creating content for the education space – publishers for the most part have relied upon external resources (freelancers, authors and writers) for their content acquisition strategies.
However, with growing consumption of digital products (the International Digital Publishing Forum reports a 200% rise in digital content sales in the US alone!), authors and writers are now increasingly evaluating self-publishing as a lucrative means of publishing their content. A recent survey conducted by ValueNotes Sourcing Practice indicated 4 in 5 authors/writers are actively self-publishing.
Authors and writers are exploring alternate means and forms to address their readership. These channels include books, novellas and chapters being realized as digital only versions – supplementing or in parallel with existing print books.
So, what has changed?
Authors and writers, traditionally, developed a symbiotic relationship with their publishers. Where the former would provide content, the latter would provide the necessary infrastructure and capital outlay to publish a book – infrastructure referring to pre-press production, printing, distribution and marketing & promotional activities. This arrangement meant an exchange of the author/writer’s intellectually property for a fee (and royalty on any sales proceeds) with the publisher generating revenues from any sales opportunity that the book might have. The critical value addition provided by publishers lay in the printing, distribution and marketing of books. However, the digital market changed that.
The economies of the digital content market have meant printing is no longer a criterion. Distribution does not require warehousing and developing an intricate series of book stores, distributors and retailers. The return on cost for developing a title in digital format offers non-linear returns – a single copy can be sold multiple times. The digital content market has, thus, re-defined the publisher’s role.
The publisher’s new role?
Several big name authors have successfully self-published their books. These authors have proven track records and a fan following that run into the millions. Often such authors are trade book writers or niche/topical writers that have a well developed and loyal community of readers. For such authors, bearing the expense of creating and distributing digital content is very much manageable. And given the fan following, marketing and promoting the title is not difficult.
For authors looking to become commercially successful, the publisher’s role remains as important as always. Without the fan following or loyal readership, such authors depend on the publisher’s resources to market and promote the title. Such marketing and promotion includes online/offline events, readings and book signings that help readers to know more about the author but more crucially develop a fan following. The role is now evolving into becoming a strong system for authors – established or otherwise.
Opportunities in the self-publishing segment
Without a publisher’s infrastructure, it is left to the author/writer to manage the publishing process – every aspect of content related processing or packaging will need to be undertaken. These aspects represent an opportunity for providers of publishing services – even if they are fragmented and unorganized. While authors/writers choosing to self-publish may be wary of the expenses of printing books, there is a sizeable opportunity in pre-press activities and even more so in marketing & promotion.
Big name publishers often rely on high quality editors to ensure their titles are of the utmost editorial quality. While the larger publishing houses have editors of such quality on their staff, authors and writers choosing to self-publish will require quality editing services.
Marketing and promotion services are a critical aspect of self-publishing that is a severe challenge area for authors and writers. In the absence of a publisher’s marketing and promotion resources, authors and writers will require to create presence and develop visibility for their titles. Marketing and promotion requirement remain unmet, and companies that offer such services are more often than not expensive.
For providers seeking to address this segment effectively, the primary operational hurdle will be the ability to address small pockets of opportunities that exist with every author. These opportunities, while not highly scalable or high in value, still represent significant volumes…and it would require thought and innovation to successfully address this opportunity.