Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest post - E-readers: Self-publishing and Quality

Written by Isabella Woods

Revolution is a term too often used when it comes to new technologies, but the rise of the E-reader certainly qualifies. Last Christmas alone, Amazon sold 1 million of its new Kindle Fire and together with Barnes and Noble’s Nook, the iPad and the various other E-readers on the market, E-book sales now account for 15% off all book sales, outselling Hardbacks two to one. If this trend continues, very soon the traditional book may go the same way as the vinyl record, videocassette or the film camera.

When you consider the advantages of E-readers, their success comes as no surprise. You can store a whole library of books on something the size of a paperback and instantly download from a choice of millions of different titles, from the very latest bestselling fiction and biographies, to self-help guides on relieving stress and buying baby clothing. However, there may be a consequence to all this reading freedom, because E-books are not only changing the way people read books, they are also making the entire publishing industry obsolete.

For agents, publishers and bookstores, E-books are having a dramatic effect. Many local bookstores have closed their doors and even big names such as Borders are no longer with us. But it’s not just the book sellers that are being side-stepped by the E-reader revolution. Publishers too, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

Self Publishing

For the keen eye searching Amazon, it is clear that more and more authors are self-publishing their work. And considering how difficult the traditional route to getting published is, it’s no wonder. First, a writer has to find an agent, which is a necessary step before publishers will even look at a manuscript. This can take month and years in itself and culminate in dozens of rejections. Even if successful, there is no guarantee an agent will then find a publisher for the writer’s work, and even if they do, the publishers need to convince the bookstores to stock it.

Now, however, in little more than an afternoon’s work, an author can upload their latest opus and start selling copies directly to readers. With no need for agents, publishers, or booksellers, and with a far better cut of the profits, it is no wonder so many writers are going the self-publishing route, but is this really a good thing?

Chaff from the Wheat

Publishers don’t just produce books. They serve a couple of really important purposes in the literary world. Firstly, while getting a book published is notoriously difficult, there is a good reason why. Publishers and agents receive hundreds of manuscripts each month. Some are excellent pieces of work, other truly awful. Publishers and agents have always chosen the cream of this crop, but now, with the freedom of self-publishing, there is nothing to stop all those badly written, poorly plotted manuscripts from polluting the virtual shelves of Amazon or other online bookseller.

Anybody that has searched the tens of thousands of self-published titles online will have come across some truly dreadful examples of literature. Even those works that are actually very good, too often are full of mistakes. You see, publishers don’t just print an author’s work, they take pains to make it better. Few self-published books are edited, which means all those mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling go unnoticed, as do all those gaping plot holes and poorly constructed characters.

Too Much Choice

This is not to say all self-published books are bad, they are not. Some truly great works have been self-published, especially in niche markets that would not be financially viable for traditional publishers, but finding them amongst all the poorly written ramblings can be almost impossible. Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing, and this is the other great purpose for traditional publishers and booksellers.

Bookstores have limited shelf space. Consequently, they try to ensure the books they stock will appeal to people. This involves talking to publishers, reading reviews and taking advice from trade magazines such as the Bookseller+Publisher. This ensures that readers are not faced with a plethora of poor quality books and can find something worthwhile reading when they visit the local store.

If traditional publishing and bookselling succumbs to the E-reader revolution, the reading public may suffer the most. While downloading books may be simple and easy to do, actually finding something worthwhile to spend your money on may become a time consuming and arduous task that could just put people off buying books altogether.


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