Are publishers inadvertently promoting self-publication?

Back in December I posted a pessimists look at the option of self-publishing. My intention was for this to be the first of a three part series but things got a bit derailed. So, my apologies for the delay, let’s get on with the discussion.

The previous article looked at some of the benefits of publishing with a publisher, rather than self-publishing. These include a measure of credibility, financial investment, protection from financial loss and promotion.

But, are these incentives really there, especially in the context of electronic publishing?

Without the visible cost of paper and ink, a lot of authors ask, “what exactly is this publisher doing to justify paying me a pittance and taking all the profit for themselves?” This is particularly true in the case of anthology and journal publication of short stories and poetry where payment often ranges from token to nothing.

There is less at stake when no capital has been invested into a print run and distribution. If an e-book sells, the publisher makes money, if it doesn’t, they’ve made no loss. They may not even invest time and effort in promoting your book. Many authors will tell you from experience that if you publish electronically with a publisher then the success or failure of your book depends on your own efforts at promotion and marketing.

Authors are not generally offered more for an electronic publishing deal than a paper one, indeed, it may be less. The books often still sell for the same amount as their paper counterparts, so it would seem the extra money is further lining the pockets of the publishers.

In the UK the pricing of e-books versus print books is influenced by the fact that VAT (value added tax), is charged at 20% on electronic media, but not on traditional print media. This is likely to change in the long run as EU regulations governing VAT rates is reviewed. The effect on e-book prices may change market patterns.

For some more information on the VAT debate, check out

Many would agree that publishing with a publisher offers your work credibility in a sea of hit and miss self-published works. But does it really? Publishers do seem to be picking up works that might have previously been sent back for further editing now that electronic publishing is an option; with less at stake financially, they can afford to take more risks. Publishers which deal exclusively in electronic content are springing up everywhere. Can these newcomers carry the same degree of authority of an established print publisher?

There are hidden costs to producing an e-book; professional, eye catching cover design, including sourcing stock images, registering ISBN numbers and so on. Many do not consider these issues until they begin to look into the matter. A publisher will take these costs out of the authors’ hands and absorb losses, but they are not the prohibitive numbers entailed in a large print run, and are within the scope of self-financing.

It seems that, far from fighting against self-publishing as competition, publishers are gently nudging new writers towards it. And, maybe this is something of an indication that the two sectors can happily co-exist.

The market needs variety, but publishers are businesses driven by the pursuit of profit; they are not concerned about who reads a book or with finding new talent and giving it a chance. As the self-publishing market grows in size and credibility,  it is possible that publishers will deal more and more exclusively with sure fire successes.

It is in the interests of publishers to encourage the world of self-publishing to develop into a proving ground for new authors. It keeps the market healthy while allowing them to cream their share from a narrow sector of lower risk volumes.

One thing is clear; the success or failure of self-publishing as a whole will rely on authors upholding their own high standards.

Part 3 will be taking a look at a much bigger and more important question; what device to read your electronic content on.