Self Publishing. The Future for Would Be Book Writers?

First Kindle and now the iPad have revived the dream of self publishing. How realistic is it for would-be authors?

A friend confided in me recently that he was thinking of writing a series of books. He was planning his departure from a high pressure job which has accustomed him to long hours. Leisurely retirement was out of the question.

This guy is no fantasist

I politely heard him out. Then he told me he was taking professional advice and coaching in creative writing. This guy is no fantasist. He may well go down the traditional route of dead tree publishing. There again, he might consider self publishing.

An instructive experiment

One published author recently carried out a test, in which he tried both traditional and tablet variants of publishing simultaneously. OK, methodologically he needed to have found a way of publishing the same book simultaneously and testing for various factors such as price. But the experiment was instructive.

The blog post by David Gauntlett outlines a method of pricing e-books, based on the price of lattes.

Digital transformations – cutting out the middle people – are creeping across the face of academic life… So, I put together a collection of previously-published pieces, revised and with some new material, as a Kindle book. I called it Media Studies 2.0, and Other Battles around the Future of Media Research, and put it on sale for £3.80. (Friends had suggested that I shouldn’t make it too cheap, as that would undermine people’s respect for it. Therefore I settled on £3.80 as a price which I thought sounded somehow quite authoritative whilst still being highly affordable).

I publicised the book via my website and Twitter. On one occasion I noted in a promotional tweet that it was ‘cheaper than two lattes’ (16 September 2011), which seemed like a reasonable way of looking at it.
In the same summer I also had a ‘proper’ book out, Making is Connecting, published by Polity. And for some commercial or bureaucratic reason, Polity have so far failed to come to an agreement with Amazon to make their books available on Kindle. Therefore we arrived at a ‘natural experiment’ where circumstances had conspired to have a Kindle book by me, and a wholly paper-based book by me, newly out at the same time, so that we could compare their fates.

What happened next?

The book published by traditional method is currently outselling the Kindle one. The author lists the methodological weaknesses in his trial. Nevertheless I find this a valuable starting point to consider the future of e-publishing for the pioneering author.

Health warning

Writing is a compulsion that can strike at any time. If you find this blog interesting, check for the tell-tale symptoms of the Midnight Disease [I am writing this at roughly 4 am ].

To go more deeply

The LSE also published earlier interesting reports on e-publishing that are worth following up.

Another experiment

In the interests of market research, I have produced two posts on this topic which provide roughly the same information, but dressed up in different formats and with different titles. They have been tagged identically, and have been published on the same day. [ I have avoided adding media images as these might influence hits.] I will be watching with interest to see over time whether one post attracts more visits, visitors, and ‘likes’, than the other.

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One Response to Self Publishing. The Future for Would Be Book Writers?

  1. Tony Proctor says:

    There are things in favour of self publishing and things against it. Academic writers may benefit by having their work published by a highly reputable publishing organisation. In addition the editing of one’s work by professional editors can improve the work substantially. Set against that publishers of all kinds often want to exert influence on what authors write. This can be beneficial but at he same time too it can be a source of irritation. Nevertheless, I have to admit that when it comes to writing books or journal articles I have always felt that the editorial guidance I have been given has been invaluable and substantially improved the quality of anything I have written.

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