The fact that the book publishing landscape is in transition is no secret – with the evolution of the e-book amongst other factors, the industry has been riding the wave of change for years. What we have been seeing of late is a seismic shift in the way that authors are getting their works out there and the figures are surprising. The recent merger announced between Random House and Penguin illustrates the publishing industry’s attempts to respond to this challenge. (Full disclosure – Pearson and News International are Edelman clients).
Back in the day, traditional methods of publishing would see authors who, after blood, sweat and tears complete their masterpiece, go about the business of securing an agent and getting their manuscript onto the desks of the leading publishing houses before raking in critical acclaim, sky-rocketing sales and all-round general popularity. Obviously I’m speaking in terms of an ideal world here. However, a new report by Bowker – the US agency in charge of identifying book ISBN numbers – indicates that we’re moving away from this traditional route. It seems that writers are taking their lives – and their books – into their own hands, with the art of self-publishing increasing at record rates.
Bowker reports that self-publishing tripled in the US in the last five years with 235,625 self-published books making it to the market between 2006 and 2011 – a staggering 287% growth. According to Bowker, self-published e-books made up 37% of that total and are overlapping print, which grew 33% in the same period.
And it seems like things could go in a similar way here in the UK too, although clearly we’re a few years behind. According to Bowker’s ‘Books & Consumers UK’ survey that took place earlier this year, self-published books totaled around 11% of all e-books bought in the UK in the first half of 2012.
Yet it’s not just E.L James and the self-published roots of the smutty 50 Shades of Grey series making a play in this area. A self-published title has been shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year. The Psychological Manager: Improve Your Performance Conversations by Peter Storr will go up against titles from the likes of publishing powerhouse Pearson Education and Amoco and Gower for the £5,000 prize sponsored by the Henley Business School in association with the British Library.
But is self-publishing a good move for the book industry in general? It’s certainly an issue that has ignited debate.
On one hand, this shift is seen as liberation by some.
Adam Croft, a self-published author of thrillers that have graced Amazon’s bestseller lists extolled over Bowker’s findings that self-publishing was on the up in a recent interview with the Guardian. Croft believes what we’re seeing is a break away from the confines of didactic publishers positioning themselves as ‘experts’ and a movement towards artistic freedom.
I’m a huge believer in artistic freedom too. But I don’t whole-heartedly agree with Croft’s view that a publisher’s book topping the best sellers list is entirely down to the fact that their “PR team have created a successful buzz.” After all, true PRs preach at the altar of “content is king”. I do believe that you can create fantastic campaigns that capture the imagination of the general public and drive hard-core sales – this is our job after all. But if what you’re selling really doesn’t stand up on its own, if the story isn’t there, if it’s not what the public want, it’s never going to stand the test of time and generate those long term sales.
I’m also a realist and do feel the need to jump to the defense and expertise of the publishing house. Publishing is a commercial business after all. It’s all about supply and demand and knowing the market. Publishers need to put money behind books that are going to be bought and read by the general public. They know their audiences and know what works – their sales and marketing teams are crucial in providing this insight. Why publish something that’s not necessarily what audiences want?
No one can deny that it’s an exciting and challenging time for the publishing industry and indeed creative freedom as more people are stepping up and wearing their creative outputs on their sleeves.
It’s certainly opening up the market, allowing it to become more democratic and inclusive. Yet as self-publishing amps up, we all need to remember the golden rule: content is indeed king. And it is on this point that a work of art may live or die.
An extended version of this post first originally appeared on Laura’s personal blog FashionandArts
|Laura Mitchell, Account Manager, Corporate and Financial, Edelman
Laura is an Account Manager within Edelman London’s Corporate & Financial practice. Her current clients include Starbucks, Singapore EDB, Get Safe Online and PepsiCo. Her role focuses on corporate reputation, crisis and issues management, B2B, and media relations. She has a background in corporate philanthropy and cultural communications, with past clients including Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Barclays Wealth. She’s currently studying towards a Graduate Certificate in Art History in her spare time.