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Self-Publishing: Threat or Menace?

Someone asked recently in a Book Industry Study Group (BISG) post: “Does anyone else out there, besides me, think that self-publishing should just go away and let ‘real’ publishing take over again?”

Interesting question. But I don’t think that the clock will stop while we deliberate, folks. There is no turning back and we are plum-pitting headfirst into the future! Business models have already started to change in major ways to accommodate self-publishing.

In a hay field, change manifests first in the border areas; in our industry, we can see it where readers meet the printed page. For example, Harvard Book Store in Cambridge has an Espresso POD book machine and now the store rents its precious real estate (and shelf, web-site and catalog space) to self-publishers; Northshire Bookshop in Vermont similarly supports self-publishers, and in addition has initiated a consignment model for traditional publishers. Harvard Book Store has started publishing its own books on the Espresso, last winter reporting they were selling 10 “Alice in Wonderland” bound mss. per day from in front of the cash register. Business models bending; roles morphing. What’s next?

Admittedly, independents do need to be more agile than lumbering chains in order to survive in a publishing environment that is increasing exponentially both in its technological complexity and in the attendant speed of change.

So I think the game is not to stop change, but rather to gather together what we “seasoned professionals” collectively remember about our traditional industry, save what’s valuable, modify what applies to online, invent what doesn’t exist yet, add a pinch of salt, hit the “globalize” button. Wait a week, and repeat. I don’t mean to be flip here, but there’s no going back so we may as well relish the wind in our faces.

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