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For many industries, digital technology is both destroyer and savior. Take the newspaper and music industries, for instance. The internet is frequently blamed for their demise, yet new technologies are also expected by many to help save them.

When it comes to how digital is killing and saving established industries, book publishing may not grab the most headlines, but it is arguably one of the most affected.

Take e-books, for instance: growing rapidly in popularity, not only are they changing the way many people read books, they're changing the economics of distribution for book publishers.

Not surprisingly, there are many things book publishers don't like. The pricing of e-books is a big one. Already, we've seen disputes over pricing lead to public spats between major retailers like Amazon and book publishers.

But where do writers fit in? After all, the interests of book publishers aren't necessarily the same as the writers who have traditionally had to go through book publishers to find mainstream success. Many writers would love nothing more than to self-publish and deal direct with readers. But is it possible?

On this front, it appears that writers may find that they're a lot luckier than their musician counterparts. Whereas it's still very hard to 'make it' financially as a mainstream musician without label backing, some of the most successful authors in the Kindle Store are thriving.

Take 26 year-old Amanda Hocking. She's a self-published novelist who is attracting a lot of attention. And for good reason: she's selling more than 100,000 copies of her e-books every single month through the Kindle Store. At $3 to $5 per e-book, Hocking is ostensibly making millions of dollars, which means that, as one commenter quoted by Novelr notes, "no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own."

Hocking may be the exception, not the rule, when it comes to self-publishing and the Kindle Store. But there are other indie authors selling thousands upon thousands of e-books to readers directly each month via the Kindle Store without the baggage of a traditional publishing arrangement. So even if it's unrealistic for indie authors to expect similar levels of success, it's still quite possible for talented authors to make their way with hard work and a bit of luck.

From this perspective, it seems quite clear: digital may not 'save' book publishers from a world that looks very different than what they've been used to, but it might very well create fantastic alternatives -- and new opportunities -- for talented writers. Book publishers may not like that, but it's a good thing for book publishing.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Damian Carvill, Marketing Manager at Packt Publishing Ltd

I agree that eBooks, Amazon and the adoption of the Kindle have opened up opportunities for the masses to make it as authors without a publishing deal. However for every Amanda Hocking there's a million and one self-published authors with under 100 sales to their name. Lulu.com could probably back this up.

In reality, the majority of these self-published success stories have had a profile and fan base before going it alone. Hocking may be an exception to this. When Radiohead self-released In Rainbows in 2007 people said it would open up amateurs bands and musicians to bypassing record labels and breaking the charts. As amateurs have no existing fan base and no means to reach the masses, this hasn't happened.

It's also easy to underestimate the other services that publishers provide; it's not just about getting a book to market and exploiting contacts. Whereas most authors can take on marketing, it's the professional editing, proofreading, layout and other production services that would be beyond most, especially those without prior publishing experience.

I think it's great that channels have opened up for self-publishing however I think true amateur success stories will become fewer and further between. Although happy to be proved wrong.

over 5 years ago


Slide Buddy

Digital is both an advantage and a disadvantage to every publisher/creator. Aside from pricing issues, they are also faced with the issue of illegal copies and bootlegged versions of their digital interface. I truly hope this won't dissolve the quality of books and art in general.

over 5 years ago


Tamara Jacobs

As an aspiring writer and publishing MA, I can say that I love the possibilities now available to writers. Between blogs, social media accounts, online article distribution channels and self-publishing, we all have a chance to get our work out there, market it ourselves and even make some money from it.

But there is a reason why most authors have to go through traditional publishers to achieve success and that is because of the talent that exists under the roofs of those houses. Even the most respected novelists in the world have editors.

And while Hocking's books are selling well in English, what's going to happen when somneone decides to translate the content and republish under their own name? Publishers have rights departments that safeguard the intellectual property ownership of the author.

Publishers must adapt their traditional work model so that it gels nicely with the digital publishing model. They need to learn what these authors need and thenprovide it to them. But let's not be fooled into thinking that all writers have to do is throw their manuscript up and it will sell. A big part of publishing is marketing. With so many channels available, self-published authors can market themselves, but they have to keep at it. They have to be interesting and engage their audience.

over 5 years ago


Eric Freese

Publishers and writers alike can benefit from the growing popularity of digital publishing. With the addition of audio, video, linking, and more, digital publishing takes books to a level that isn’t possible in print. As traditional publishers get help with digital publishing, the literary world will continue its rise. As authors learn more about the possibilities, they can also assist publishers in creating more and better enhancements.

over 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

There are also some very interesting new formats coming out - for example the "Kindle Singles" described here: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/01/amazon-launches-kindle-singles-saves-long-form-journalism/

over 5 years ago



Any technology has its own merits & demerits.

When you look at the perspective of a publisher, it gives him lot of business in digitizing old ones which are print form.

over 5 years ago


Digital Publishing

Its a cycle every technology has to undergo, it has the entry and exit giving way to new technology. The new technology someday will be same state as the old technology is now and that is all because of growth in technology and human needs for up gradation and move on to the new ones.


over 5 years ago

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