So what does this have to do with publishing, one might ask? Simple enough; let me explain.
I feel you can look at the competition between the Traditional Publishers (the Trads, henceforth) and the Independent Publishers (the Indies) as the middle of a nine-inning contest being contested on a hot, summer day. In previous meetings, the Trads have always dominated the Indies; their power and speed to market simply was too much for the Indies; and the Indies’ lack of experience and professional expertise always led to egregious errors that skewed the playing field heavily toward the Trads.
That lop-sided contest is changing, however. Let’s take a look at the score.
Editing/proofing: The Trads always seem to come out swinging for the fences here, and their brawn has proved to be too much over the years for the meager Indies. Unfortunately, the Indies still struggle here, and there really is just no excuse for sloppiness. More and more small, online businesses are popping up that offer surprisingly low prices to have your book edited, proofread and cover designed by professionals. And it’s not your Average Joe doing the work; many of them are Trad editors and book designers that are taking on their former employers – and scoring big. Still, a huge inning for the Trads: Trads 4 Indies 0
Speed to market: Easily, the best showing for the Indies. They run circles around the Trads because of their ability to put a book out on the same day they finish it. More about what the Trads need to do to catch up. Strong inning for the Indies: Trads 5 Indies 2
Tools: While a broad term, I’m referring to those tools needed to properly write and prepare both the manuscript and the book itself. While always a mainstay of the Trads, the Indies now find themselves on almost equal footing. From word processors (even free ones) to desktop publishing software, anyone with the willingness to learn a few applications can put out a product that mimics those found on bookstore shelves. The printing is still the key to the final product, however; and the Trads still own a slight advantage due to the quality and low cost that they can leverage. Trads 5 Indies 3
Content: While you would think that because the Trads have a couple hundred-year head start in experience, that they would own the edge here. Not so. There are thousands of Indie authors out there that come up with content equal to, or better than, what the Trads can put out. Why? Because with the Trads, it’s all about the bottom line – money. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but in terms of what gets published – that’s a bad thing. Their main concern is making sure that what they put out makes money – no exceptions. And rightly so; after all, shareholders are there for a reason, right? It’s doubtful that any Indie publisher truly believes they are going to get rich on what they put out; so that leaves them with the freedom to write what they want – and publish it. The Indies eke out a run here. Trads 5 Indies 4
Distribution: Alas, another weak spot for the Indies. But wait! Times have changed, and no longer do Indies consider the term “Vanity Publisher” a blanket statement for their ranks, but rather an insult. Indie publishing is no longer about “my work deserves to be printed!” but is instead a new paradigm for removing the red tape and bypassing the vast slush piles that clog the system and prevent most authors’ works from ever seeing the light of day. Big names in the online retail industry have either started up or purchased self-publishing entities, and have groomed them to become staunch competitors with their Trad brethren. You don’t have to be a celebrity “writing” a book (read: coming up with an idea, have a ghostwriter fill in the space between the covers, and then slap your name on it) to get your work put into the major literary catalogs. Once another sore spot for the Indies, the Trads only own a very slight edge here because of their ability to put physical books on the brick and mortar shelves. The Digital Revolution is making tremendous inroads on this front. Trads 6 Indies 5
As you can see, we’re still in the midst of this battle. Unlike years past, however, this contest is becoming a very close one indeed. While the Trads can boast size and power, with the help of some major players (Amazon, Ingram, et al) the Indies have significantly closed the gap.
To play Devil’s advocate for a second: what can the Trads do to make sure they keep their lead? Simple enough – invest in either kick-starting their own self-publishing arm, or buy one of the many up-and-comers that already exist – and nurture it like a stray puppy. Amazon did it. Ingram did it. And you know what? They are successful and growing. The age-old Trad game of limiting what the public sees on the shelves by funneling prospective authors through literary agents and fitting the product into a mold is archaic; it will only lead to the Indies gaining more ground. Ignore the Digital Revolution and it will pass you by.
They aren’t there yet, but the Indies will win…someday.