REB #16: "With the advent of ebook self-publishing and the democratization of distribution … the power of publishing is shifting away from publishers and into the hands of authors and readers where it belongs."

– Mark Coker interview

Mark Coker, CEO, Smashwords

Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords

Yesterday, I found this interview with Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of the electronic publishing company Smashwords. In it, he describes the changing nature of the publishing industry, highlighting his role and understandably praising his own brand of electronic self-publishing. Thisis marketing 101 after all: you do an interview to raise awareness for your product/service, so why not “talk it up”?

Anyway, I love technology. Outside of books and real-life people, my computer and TV are my best friends. However, I’m apprehensive about this shift toward electronic reading. I already do a lot of my news reading online because of all the blogs and Twitter accounts that I follow. So will I want to sit on my futon this winter, next to a roaring fireplace, and cuddle up with a good…LCD-type screen? An iPad, for instance?

Hell no!

But while I love the tactile sensation of having a book in my hands, turning its pages, flipping quickly to a favorite passage, etc., I cannot deny the convenience that electronic publishing affords the reader (we’ll leave the writer out of the equation for now). The simple fact of the matter is that I’m running out of space for books. When I moved to Baltimore in August 2009, I brought with me a small, 3-shelf bookcase and well over 300 books; I quickly bought two 5-shelf bookcases to accomodate the books, as well as my collection of DVDs. Then in late August 2010, I moved from Bolton Hill to Downtown, where my room is actually a little smaller anyway, so it wasn’t too distressing that one of my large shelves collapsed before I even tried to move it. I’m down to a 3-shelfer and a 5-shelfer. As such, many of my books are now stored and, yes, inventoried in boxes in the downstairs closet. I hate that; my books want to be out of the closet, with me, but alas, they aren’t.

With an e-reader, I still wouldn’t be able to display my books – they’d still be in the invisible “closet” of my e-reader’s storage mechanism – but at least I would have room for them. I guess that’s the tradeoff. I can have more books with an e-reader, I can have them almost instantly, and I can have them cheaper in most instances. But they aren’t books. They’re texts, yes, but they aren’t books, per se.

So why, as a writer, would/should I consider using a service like Smashwords? For one thing, Smashwords itself is free. They only take a 15% bite out of the writer’s royalties, when he/she makes money, which is a far cry from the 50-75% that most traditional publishers take. From an economical standpoint, the advantage is clear: if you (self-)publish electronically with Smashwords, you stand to make a lot more money for your work. There’s also the fact that you don’t have to wade through a sea of rejection letters from publishers, because you, my friend, are self-publishing. For “free.” That’s unheard of, isn’t it? We’re talking about guaranteed publication, here, with 85% royalties and coverage on most of the e-book stores out there (even Apple’s iBookstore and Barnes & Noble’s e-book store are included; I don’t think Amazon is one of them, though – not yet, anyway).

That sounds like a sweet deal, and I’ll probably seriously consider it for book-length works because at least I can get my name and my writing out there. But at the end of this M.F.A. program, when I publish my book of short stories, I still want to see my awesome book cover design on a tangible, traditional book in a brick-and-mortar store. And I want the prestige that comes with having my book hand-picked for publication.

Is that so much to ask?

*NOTE: This blog entry is syndicated from a blog I had to start for my Electronic Publishing class at U.B. this semester. I may or may not delete the extraneous blog when the class is over, but I thought I would at least give my readers the opportunity to read the contents of that blog indefinitely.

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2 Responses to “REB #16: "With the advent of ebook self-publishing and the democratization of distribution … the power of publishing is shifting away from publishers and into the hands of authors and readers where it belongs."”

  1. Mike Booth 3-October-2010 at 6:34 am #

    Hi Roger,
    Enjoyed your remarks regarding paper vs. ebooks. That comment about “curling up by an open fire with a good Kindle…” keeps coming back. I see it all over the place. I think that people who feel that way (you, for example) are forgetting the fact that people, products, customs and everything else are subject to CHANGE. Have you bought an e-reader yet? Do you use it? If not, you should probably do so before deciding. Case in point: My wife recently bought Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy.” It’s more than 1,400 pages. She had trouble holding it up while trying to read it. Finally I took a big knife and sliced it down the middle to make it more manageable. If she’d bought it as an ebook she wouldn’t have had that problem. The short answer: We can become accustomed to change, actually enjoy it.

    Best regards, Mike Booth

    • Roger Market 3-October-2010 at 10:00 am #

      Thanks for the comment. And actually, if you reread that part about curling up next to the fireplace, you’ll notice that I specifically called out LCD/LED/etc. readers like the iPad. Not the Kindle. eInk is an entirely different story (no pun intended). That’s the only saving grace of the e-reader market; I could learn to deal with a Kindle, and in fact, I do have tentative plans to buy one. My biggest beef is with the computer-type readers. Although I am not completely onboard with electronic publishing yet, it is wearing me down. I want to see the benefits, and for the most part, I do. I’ll never arrive at the point where I buy all my books in electronic form, but I will accept it as a viable option in many cases (e.g., a 1400-page book). I especially love the idea of taking hundreds or thousands of books with me wherever I go; that’s a boon for travel! All that said, nostalgia is very powerful, and so is tradition. That’s what I cling to because it’s what I grew up with. Change is inevitable and difficult but necessary. I know that.

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