Internet Gives Boost to Vanity Publishing

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For decades the cost of publishing on dead trees gave the publishing industry significant leverage over hopeful writers. But the Internet, specifically sites like Lulu and Scribd, are about to change all that.


Here is the classic scenario: A writer pours his heart and soul into a manuscript, polishes it up, and sends it, along with the lump in his throat, to a publisher in the hopes of validation of his art. After all, an unpublished writer may as well be no writer at all. Sometimes he even pays a reading fee, a small tax to weed out more impoverished competition while supporting publishers. He waits, he collects rejection slips, and if he hits the right publisher at the right time, he gets published.


If the publisher has a good relationship with booksellers, a hefty marketing budget, friends in high book review places, both the writer and the publisher succeed. The vast majority end up at smaller publishers dedicated to publishing fine works for minimal return as a sort of commitment to the arts. Regardless of who takes the risk (risk=cost of dead trees, marketing) on an author, the author’s standard reimbursement: a dollar per copy sold.

Yes, the reader pays upwards of $25 for a book, and the person who created it gets a lousy buck. The rest of the money goes to cover the cost of printing and marketing, and the rest is pocketed by publishers and booksellers. That lousy buck is fine if you sell millions, or even hundreds of thousands, but a book just needs to have a good week of 5,000 copies sold to qualify as a “best seller.” And the vast majority of authors would be lucky to sell that many ever.

If an author spends a year, two years, five years on a book, that’s not great return on investment.

The Internet offers good news, though, for modern authors. “Self-publishing” used to mean an author couldn’t convince a publisher to take a risk on him (or her, apologies to women writers everywhere—gender-specific pronoun is a convenience thing, not a statement), and the author footed the cost of publishing himself. Once labeled “vanity publishing,” self-publishing instantly took on the stigma of the second tier.

That meant if the author wanted to be remembered for anything, he had to play the upside-down game publishers wanted him to play, and accept the terms the publisher was willing to give him, often in the form of losing the rights to a work, dwindling advances, or puny percentages.
This 20th Century system worked basically the same way for music and movies as well. The advent of YouTube, MySpace, and other online promotional/publishing venues has set this model on its end by taking out the gatekeepers, the barriers between artist and public.

As for book publishing, there have been various outlets for vanity publishing on the Web for years; Lulu.com is one of them, which allows authors to upload their manuscripts and copies are printed as ordered.

But what about e-books? Aren’t we getting beyond the hardback and paperback? While some of us still love the smell of binding and the crack of a hardcover spine, no doubt times are changing and eventually bookshelves will exist only in nostalgic abodes. Amazon has nice self-publishing offerings for authors, especially with the advent of Kindle. However, Kindle carries the same issue iTunes does. E-books purchased for the Kindle can only be viewed on the Kindle.

That’s a bit restrictive, limiting the audience in such a way that, like in the past, only those with the hype Big Publishing can provide have any real chance at success. 

Enter Scribd, which touts itself as the YouTube of the publishing world. Scribd allows users to upload pretty much any document format, PDF, Word, PowerPoint, etc., and share as they like. Readers unattached to glossy covers can download the documents and print, read, embed, or share. Authors can charge for downloads, keep 80 percent of sales (as compared to a meager two percent), and control how the e-book is distributed.

Today, Scribd announced a deal with publishing giants Random House and Simon & Schuster, among many others to make books available and offer sneak preview chapters and excerpts.

Scribd.com VS Lulu.com

While Lulu has held steady at 800,000 unique monthly viewers, Scribd in the past few months has rocketed past seven million. Already that’s a significant opportunity for authors looking to bypass the wait-and-hope approach and to take publishing matters into their own hands. It could even be a bridge between authors and powerhouse publishers, displacing agents and giving those risk-averse publishers a good indication of a book’s potential.


Internet Gives Boost to Vanity Publishing
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    I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome this is. By the way, you forgot to mention where some of the $25 goes when someone buys a book–the agent! These recent developments must have agents quaking in their boots.

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