e-books - the New Spam?

e-book readersPublishing for new authors in the current climate is difficult enough without a new attack coming from author/publishers themselves. I use the terms ‘author/publishers’ advisedly.

We all know how difficult it is to get a publishing contract with a ‘Trade Publisher’. For clarification, this is someone who takes on an author and funds all the production and distribution costs of an author’s book, sometimes paying the author an advance against future royalties and in return, takes a major chunk of any profit, passing on a remaining percentage to the author after costs, trade margins, advances and other costs are deducted.

This is a fairly straightforward commercial transaction and in principle, subject of course to the terms of the contract, fair enough. After all the Publisher in this situation is taking the major commercial risk and is the one who stands to lose real money if the book does not sell.

Unfortunately, like many things in life the commercial pressures on these companies has led to them focussing on either the ‘mass sellers’ or the ‘celebrity’ market where a potential financial return and a large one, can be more easily predicted and assured.

This has led to many authors, ‘self-publishing’ which has become more accessible as technologies have changed to allow small numbers of books to be printed, so-called ‘short-runs or ‘Print on Demand’ (POD).

Just as an aside, what many of these authors do is not, in my opinion, self-publishing – it is subsidy publishing, where some company takes their manuscript and produces a book for them, usually making a profit on the production initially and subsequently on any sales AND production costs thereafter, (including sales to the author themselves!)

Some people, even a lot of authors, fail to see the difference. After all, the author is usually paying the initial costs so is he not just passing on the donkey work to another company? Well not really. If you publish yourself, you may well farm out part of the work to others, for example pretty much everyone needs to use a professional printer for example or maybe cover design work, some editing etc. But in the end, the author is the publisher (self-publisher you see?) and controls everything from then on. He is not constantly dependent upon the other company for product. Find yourself a more competitive printer for example and swap your production instantly to him, no issues as to who owns the ISBN, who has the print-ready files, designs etc – they are yours.

I think subsidy publishing is similar to someone telling you he is a sky-diver and when you find yourself up in the plane with him he suddenly pushes you out. Who actually is the skydiver then!

Self publishing has given many independent writers (Indies) a channel to market that otherwise they would not have and the market has been further opened up by e-book publishing which has made the process very easy and quite inexpensive. (Unless of course you seek out a ‘subsidy publisher’ who is going to tell you how hard it is and take money off you again!)

On the face of it then, this is another huge opportunity for Indies because you really can do it inexpensively, you don’t even have any difficult formatting or printing costs.

But, as with anything that is inexpensive it opens up the market to people who, frankly, are not writers at all.

By this, I don’t mean they are necessarily ‘bad writers’ - bad writers in the print world are effectively their own censors. Unless they are very rich you cannot keep paying out hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds to print books that don’t sell.

Unfortunately though as it is perfectly possible to ‘publish’ in digital format for pretty much nothing, the commercial constraints that will often filter out bad writers do not apply and they can continue to churn out poor product ad infinitum.

But worse still is that, as it is free, you don’t actually need to be a writer at all - even a bad one and this has led to e-book vendors being flooded with what is in effect spam.

There are unscrupulous people effectively selling ‘kits’ advice on how to put together so-called ‘books’ from multiple sources without actually producing anything original. It is possible to knock off a couple of ‘these’ so-called books a day and by pitching them at ridiculously low prices like 99 cents they try to bypass any research that the reader might do, on the basis that it is so cheap the misguided reader might as well just pay rather than invest any time in evaluation.

As the book has cost nothing to produce, any revenue generated, even these few pennies, represents a profit.

As far as I’m concerned these people are no better than the spammers who send emails trying to get unsuspecting consumers to part with money for rubbish.

But almost worse than the spammers are the authors themselves, who are conned into believing that this is the future of e-books and mix their own work in the growing morass of 99 cent junk.

So, please don’t be a spammer either deliberately or under the misguided idea that you are somehow ‘creating a market’.

What you are actually doing it is destroying it for everyone – including yourself.