I can’t help but read stories about authors and their self-publishing efforts with great relish. The bigger the better. That’s why, when I saw the news over the weekend about Harry Potter writer J.K Rowling going the self-publishing route, all I could think was, “You go girl!”
When a big-name writer such as Rowling – who, let’s face it, is the biggest there is – goes solo and decides to sell her own ebooks independent of any publisher, that contributes to two things. First, it continues to take the stigma off self-publishing and secondly, it sends further much-needed shockwaves through the already rollicking book business.
On the first point, it’s true that Rowling isn’t exactly taking a huge chance. Her Harry Potter books are already established commodities and she will doubtlessly do very well selling her own books. People know who she is and will seek her out. Nevertheless, her move is a huge step toward quashing whatever negative connotation might still be associated with self-publishing. If the biggest author in the world isn’t too vain to publish her own books, then no one else can be, right?
The second point is considerably more important, though. How Rowling is choosing to sell her ebooks is almost as important as the fact that she is doing so in the first place. Rather than going with an established middle man ebook retailer, such as Amazon or Apple, Rowling is choosing to sell her goods via her own website. That means she’ll be keeping 100% of the proceeds, rather than giving up 30% to the middle man.
That’s pretty amazing because if other big names follow suit, the whole book-selling dichotomy will change dramatically. Amazon, Apple, Kobo and the like will have to work at attracting and keeping such big names. In other words, they’ll have to actually do something to earn their 30%, other than just sitting there. Whether that’s some sort of promotional agreement or whether the 30% gets dramatically cut to say 5%, ebook retailers are going to have to add some kind of value to what they do.
That brings us to traditional publishers. Exactly what do they do to earn their 90% cut? They seem to be left holding the short end of the stick – and deservedly so.
Speaking from my limited experience, the book business is more illogical and messed up than the music industry ever was, and we all know what happened to them. My own Canadian publisher, Penguin, has been fighting with Amazon over ebook pricing and generally trying to resist the digital revolution completely. In the meantime, Penguin authors are suffering from a healthy dose of illogic, like grossly overpriced ebooks. There is no sane reason why an ebook should cost more than a hardcover, but lo and behold, that’s the case with my Sex, Bombs and Burgers.
What’s the result of this? It’s non-existent ebook sales. I wouldn’t pay $22 for the best ebook in the world – and obviously no one else will either, if my sales reports are anything to go by (and yes, although Sex, Bombs and Burgers is a veritable thrill ride, it probably isn’t the best ebook in the world in anyone’s mind besides my own).
The most poignant part of the Wired story is about how Rowling’s move may be a “kick up the arse” to the publishing industry:
Publishers need to radically rethink their remuneration structures in order to ensure that their cash cows don’t all follow Rowling’s suit. To this day, publishing remains a B2B business – publishers sell to retailers and not readers.
To that, I’d add that publishers have a new set of customers – their authors – and they need to start making them happy. Otherwise, writers might start doing similarly illogical things, like directing potential readers to sites like these.