As the publishing business fragments across a digital landscape (switching from being a top-down, publisher controlled market powered by physical processes to a bottom-wide reader controlled market, powered by digital processes), all is changing for authors. Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, explains what it means for authors in this a three-part series on indie authors and self-publishing 3.0
Consumer trends like the rise of personal branding, mindful consumption and mobile phone reading all are moving in favor of those authors who have developed an independent, creative and empowered mindset, who understand the value of their intellectual property, and who can benefit from these opportunities.
Authors can now publish in a variety of digital formats (ebook, print book, audiobook) on a variety of platforms (own website, Amazon KDP and ACX, Apple Books, Google Play, Ingram Spark, Kobo and a variety of aggregators (Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, StreetLib) to sell books globally.
This, together with the acknowledgement that today's self-publishing author is creative and commercial director of an author business is what ALLi encourages through our Self-publishing 3.0 campaign (#selfpub3.0).
What is Self-Publishing 3.0 Anyway?
Self-Publishing 1.0 began in the 1990s with desktop publishing and print-on-demand technology.
Self-Publishing 2.0 kicked off with the Kindle in 2008, and quickly saw the rise of digital publishing, reading and listening to e-books and audiobooks, together with online bookstores and book distribution.
Self-publishing 3.0 sees authors emerging with independent publishing businesses, owning and trading in their own intellectual property on a non-exclusive basis through self-publishing platforms and selective rights licensing.
Self-publishing 3.0 is both a concept and a campaign. The concept is that digital technology gives any author (who has acquired the necessary writing and publishing skills) the means to increase their income through building a sustainable and scalable author business.
The campaign aims to raise the average income for authors and poets through enterprise education and author empowerment. We lobby the literary and creative industries in seven global territories and advocate for true independence for authors.
The campaign has two main aims:
1. Author education around the realities of successful self-publishing and the development of three skill sets: writing, digital publishing, and author business.
2. Publishing sector education around the realities of what it is to be an author in today’s digital and entrepreneurial environment. To that end, ALLi approaches various government bodies, creative industry leaders, and other influencers in the publishing and bookselling industries, aiming to create a more informed conversation about the indie author experience and facilitate skills training.
True independence, for authors as for anyone, must incorporate commercial as well as creative independence. The self-publishing 3.0 campaign fosters a climate that encourages commercial independence through author business. And encouraging authors:
Towards an empowered and independent mindset.
Towards the realization that they are in business and can learn from other authors how to write well, publish well and run a good author business.
To own their own transactional e-commerce websites while also using online retailers, other publishers, and publishing services to distribute their books as widely as possible, in as many formats as possible.
To ensure they have a diversity of income streams, including direct sales, subscription models, crowdsourced patronage, and income from other activities like online teaching and affiliate income (learn more).
To see trade publishing as an author service. An independent author sits down to a publishing offer with an informed and empowered mindset, expecting a partnership of equals which should be reflected in the publishing contract.
To beware of exclusivity and take control of their author businesses rather than putting all their intellectual property into any single business owned by another.
To be aware of the value of their intellectual property and creative assets.
To relish the freedom and control inherent in being an indie author. To recognize the opportunities provided by today’s digital tech and tools, welcome the challenges of developing the art and craft of writing and publishing, and take pride in being the creative and commercial director of their books and their business.
Making full use of all the opportunities provided by digital publishing (including innovations like the blockchain) has the potential to deliver true creative and commercial independence to authors. It could also revolutionize the books trade, making publishing an author-led industry for the first time in history.
It would complete the self-publishing revolution started by Amazon back in 2008, returning publishing to authors and providing the commercial expression of the rights inherent in copyright.
It includes crowdsourced patronage, subscriptions, membership models and other forms of direct sales by authors to readers, without any intermediary except an online purchasing mechanism.
At the moment, this is only a small part of most self-publishers business model but the changes in publishing conditions, and consumer purchasing habits, look set to accelerate this trend.
This wasn't possible before because the conditions weren't in place. But self-Publishing 1.0 (desktop publishing and print-on-demand technology) and self-Publishing 2.0 (ebooks, ereaders and online bookstores) have led to a rise in confidence in authors and other creatives, and an increasing amount of direct engagement.
Increased author confidence is the most important outcome of digital publishing.
And now artificial intelligence adn blockchain technology look set to help authors to further capitalize on this trend.
Direct Sales/Subscription/Crowdsourced Patronage
Two key considerations for any business are diversity of income streams and information about customers. Building direct sales, subscriptions and patronage on their own websites not only allows authors a higher revenue, it allows them to learn more about their customers, creates a direct relationship through email, and strengthens the all-important author platform.
Few authors are making direct selling a central plank of their author-business.
How many authors, for example, take their social media advertising to their own website for digital file download?
How many of us take ourselves seriously as publishers and business owners, able to use services like Amazon, Apple, Kobo and IngramSpark to deliver sales, yes, but also recognizing that we are in competition with them for those sales?
How many of us take time to educate their readers about what it means to the author to have a direct purchase?
How many are set up for bulk special-sales outlets, crowdsourced subscription, or patronage?
Five centuries of conditioning and a mass consumer culture are not overturned in a decade, but the economic tide is turning in favor of the smaller, more personal outlet.
The rise in the maker movement, in personal branding, in mindful consumption, in mobile phone sales, are all favorable consumer trends for authors. We can not only benefit from them, with our influential community we can deepen and expand their societal impact.
This is the most important trend now emerging for authors and technological advances are bringing it closer.
Self-publishing 3.0 has already begun: some authors already successfully sell directly to readers through their own websites and some are already on a blockchain.
Blockchain For Books
Blockchain looks set not only to seamlessly allow direct payments but to allow income from sales to be effortlessly split at the point of transaction between the author and anyone else involved in the making of the book, including services and booksellers.
Authors need to understand what's coming if we are to have a say in how blockchain, and self-publishing 3.0, develop over the coming years, and ensure that we optimize all opportunities for ourselves, for our readers, for the strengthening of the intellectual property (IP) laws that our income rests on, and for the fair and equitable management of data and information by society as a whole.
Three Vibrant Publishing Economies
We often think there are two ways for an author to get to market and reach readers: trade publishing or self-publishing, but actually there are now three vibrant economies operating in the business of books:
trade publishing (author as right licenser): where a business licenses the author's copyright, and invests time or money in providing some or all of the seven stages of the publishing process (editorial, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion and rights licensing) on the author's behalf.
They take in the money generated by the book and eventually, at least six months later, pay over to the author less than 10% (often, once discounts are taken into account, as little as 3%) in royalty payments. Sometimes, the author may receive an advance on royalty payments.
serviced self-publishing (author as service purchaser): an author hires a service to provides all of the publishing processes for an upfront fee.
After the intitial investment has earned out, the book is in profit but marketing and promotion remain an ongoing cost.
author publishing (author as creative director): The writer steps up to overseeing the making and selling of their book(s), hiring freelance publishing professionals to assist in the seven stages of publishing, and setting up an author businesses.
This is the path to publication favored by those who have come to be called “indie authors” and who make up the majority of the membership of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Author-Publishing may provide a better business model than trade-publishing for the average book, and have taken us many steps closer to author autonomy, but we have a way to go yet before we can say that we are truly “indie”.
Challenges For Self-Publishing 2.0 Today
Supply Chain Based Challenges
Although self-publishing 2.0 brought authors three steps closer to their readers, content is still mediated by large corporations. These days it is Silicone Valley based companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, rather than Manhattan and London based trade publishers. Commercially, authors remain vulnerable.
Everyone else gets paid first. Editors and designers, formatters and retailers, marketeers and PR services, agents and rights buyers, trade-publishers and publishing services, all get paid before an author sees a penny.
The vast majority of “indie” authors earn their income from a single distributor-retailer, Amazon.
Author Based Challenges
Many self-publishers fail to create monetary value from their work because they are not good publishers, either on the production side (writing, editorial and design) or on the selling side (marketing, promotion and sales). Only a miniscule few are succeeding on the rights licensing side.
Many authors crave attention more than money and overvalue their work emotionally while undervaluing it commercially.
Self-publishing authors may find they are in business by default and many resist being in business at all (“I love writing but hate marketing.”)
Authors have used their low-overhead competitive advantage to offer free and low-priced books, a short-term promotion strategy which risks devaluing our product.
Authors sign contracts without reading them and freely hand over the personal data and intellectual property (IP) on which their businesses are built.
Copyright and Legal Challenges
Piracy is rampant, rendering copyright law and digital rights management ineffectual.
Publishing contracts are complex and often unintelligible,
Blockchain, with its smart contracts and wallets, ability to split payments at the point of transaction, establish ownership of IP and copyright, and record openly and infallibly terms of agreement, has the potential to revolutionize publishing again, for the second time in two decades.
Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing.