The Democratization of Publishing

Until recently, publishing was an elitist set-up, under the control of a limited few publishers. Though technically anyone with access to a printing press could publish, the huge investment required to make print runs, coupled with the difficulty in distributing the books to bookstores globally, made such independent publishing attempts a non-starter.

Publishing was once autocratic

Established publishing houses worked on a business model of promoting a few authors, and then trying to sell a large number of copies off them. Most authors faced repeated rejections, and many of such rejections were owing to commercial considerations, rather than literary reasons. Even highly talented authors who eventually made it big faced rejections multiple times. The reasons ranged from the publisher simply not seeing a large market for the book, to the author not being charismatic enough. The situation with mid-level authors, and those whose works appealed to a limited geographical market were worse off – they were almost totally excluded from mainstream publishing.

The ‘Indie’ revolution

The ‘indie’ revolution is changing this closed-door landscape, and throwing open publishing to just about anyone who is interested. The convergence of three emerging technologies at the turn of the century laid the groundwork for it:

  1. Desktop publishing replaced traditional typesetting, making it possible for individual authors to bring their own book to press.
  2. The new Print-On-Demand (POD) technology, powered by nimble inkjet printers makes it possible to print books individually, at costs comparable to per unit costs of print runs. This spares authors the huge capital outlay needed for making print runs.
  3. The masses started using the Internet for retail.

Subsequent technological improvements made eBook readers, tablets and smartphones popular, giving rise to eBooks. The popularity of eBook readers such as Amazon Kindle Reader, and Barnes & Nobles’ Nook, along with the many advantages it offers, threatens to make print books extinct.

DIY publishers

Many platforms, such as Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu and others have leveraged the technological advancements to offer DIY publishing services, which includes eBook stores, and Print-On-Demand services. Such platforms offer a place for indie authors to market their books.

Flexible services

DIY publishers not only allow just about anyone to publish, they also offer flexible services. It is actually possible for authors to publish eBooks without spending a single penny. Even rolling out a high standard book, with professional editing & cover design, and investment in publicity would not set the indie author back by more than a couple of thousand dollars. Since all eBooks look and feel the same, there is now a level playing field where indie authors can compete with the high priests of publishing on talent, rather than on the extent and depth of resources.

Democracy in action

Though there is still considerable scope for further democratization, especially with regards to distribution channels and how the mainstream press treats indie publishing in reviews, the dominance of the “elite” of publishing is now a thing of the past. The world of publishing is now democratic. That there were 391,000 new self-published e-book titles and 234,931 self-published hard copy titles in 2013, in the US alone, confirms this fact.

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Image Credit: Kristin Brenemen on Flickr

Author : Nayab Naseer Date : 13 Mar 2014