Publishing’s…Continued Relevance?

Guy Kawasaki, the well-known (in the tech community) VC, Apple-r, and general man-about-town, has a new book out making the case for self-publishing.  It is, fittingly, self-published (“Nonoina Press” has Guy listed as the only contact).  I’m curious, personally – it’s going on my Amazon wishlist. Now, it is certain that the publishing industry as it exists today is definitely too fat to survive – digital technology is simply killing a lot of the jobs that are played by people today.  My belief has always been that self-publishing doesn’t make sense for  a new author – but that for an author with an established brand it makes sense as a tactic to keep more of their profits and have full creative freedom.

Charles Stross, a sci-fi author with an extremely strong brand, provides a compelling counter-argument: division of labor.  As Kawasaki’s book says, a successful self-publisher truly is “Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur”. Most authors are emphatically neither publishers nor entrepreneurs, they are bookish people who like to be left alone and let other people take care of the “business-y stuff”.  Not to mention editing – having been both a writer and editor, there’s nothing like a good editor to help you take your writing to the next level.  This division of labor is intrinsic to the publishing process, and there’s a reason that publishing contracts are not particularly friendly to authors – they specialize in writing, whereas publishers specialize in getting as much money out of authors as they can.

Stross implicitly suggests that this is actually a utility-maximizing exchange, though he doesn’t come out and say so.  The hit to his writing productivity, and the unpleasantness it would entail, are so high that it makes sense for him to sacrifice part of his revenue in order to have professionals take care of this for him.   One could take this even further, though again Stross doesn’t, and argue that his overall income is higher, perhaps substantially higher, because of the assistance of his publisher and his resultant higher writing productivity.

Thesis: Business books will show the highest migration to self-publishing purely because of the business experience of the authors involved.

Corollary: The tidal wave of crap that results will present an unmatched opportunity for publishing houses, albeit with lower staffing levels than today.

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