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Does the Self-Publishing Boom Benefit Readers. . . or Writers?

Apple's iBookstore promotes new "Breakout Books" section by self-published authors - peoplewhowrite

Apple’s iBookstore promotes new “Breakout Books” section by self-published authors

There’s been a lot of talk about how self-publishing benefits writers, but what about readers? For writers sick of knocking the iron door of literary agencies/the publishing industry without favorable answer, self-publishing has allowed them to get their stories out. But in a recent piece on The Guardian‘s website, Anna Baddely questions whether this flood of self-published stories is a  good thing for readers.

“I find it very unlikely that someone looking for their next read would think: I want something by a self-published author,” she writes. “It would be like logging on to iTunes to buy some music and selecting, instead of rock/pop, a category called “songs recorded in people’s bedrooms”.” Ouch.

She adds, “let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart.” Baddely even challenges the notion that self-publishing benefits the writers that take advantage of publishing platforms to release their work independently. “To get noticed,” she points out, “you either need to be very lucky or spend every waking hour manically self‑promoting.” Baddely says the only real winner are the booksellers who can move self-published works quickly as they tend to sell at a lower price.

By likening self-published titles to “songs recorded in people’s bedrooms,” Baddely references the stigma of low-quality (poor editing, bad cover design) usually associated with them. But, with self-publishing services teaming up with traditional publishers, and the industry becoming more sophisticated, that stigma is increasingly taking a back seat to news-makers like 17-year-old Beth Reekles who snagged a Random House book deal after self-publishing her work on Wattpad and Hugh Howey who recently inked a major deal with Simon and Schuster based on the success of his self-published series Wool. If Reekles’ and Howey’s success is any indication, readers appreciate having more titles to discover — whether they have the imprimatur of a traditional publisher or not.

But Baddely raises a great point about whether self-published writers benefit. Stories like Reekles’ and Howey’s are rare, as she points out; and with readers used to buying books (digital or physical) at increasingly lower prices, self-published authors earn less and less for their work even as they split the smaller pie with sales platforms.

We’re still at the beginning of the self-publishing wave, so it’s hard to know the legacy effect it will have on readers and writers, but we’ll be watching.

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