A New Model of Publishing

Recently a great deal of books I have purchased and read have been on the back of first following the author’s blog. Indeed most of them are collections of work that had previously been published on said blogs and this is part of a growing trend in micro publishing which I am fairly certain sounds the death knell for traditional big house publishers who should be radically altering their model if they hope to survive.

Unsurprisingly, these projects have produced a fairly mixed bag of results, from the hastily and poorly constructed gathering of old posts with little thought to structure to the hastily but rather better constructed and themed gathering of old posts to a demonstration of the state of the art for this kind of project.

The lessons to be learned are clear:

  • You still need a good editor.
  • This model of publishing is very fast and direct.
  • The technical barriers to entry are diminishing fast – it’s much like the early blogosphere.
  • Building an audience on a blog and then selling them your book is a fairly workable model.
  • Working too fast will have a severe impact on quality.
  • You still need a good editor.
  • Good design of your product matters. This is true of all products, of course, but it’s too easy to accept the default templates where a little time and money will make a big difference.
  • You still need a good editor.

The books in question are (in order) “How to be the Luckiest¬† Person Alive” by James Altucher, “Ikigai” by Sebastian Marshall and “Mindfire” by Scott Berkun and I plan to review each of them more fully in upcoming posts.

I think that there is a tendancy to sneer at the idea of self publishing authors – it has for a long time been the laughing stock of the publishing industry and was synonymous with failed authors. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco sets the narritive around a small publisher who makes a tidy living out of exploiting SPAs and some of the lunatic fringe of that pool become the downfall of the men who considered themselves such literary giants. I doubt that the rise of self publishing was really what Eco had in mind for his theme rather than the a sly joke about intellectuals overcoming their fear of creating rather than just criticising and curating, but it is an interesting portrait of how the scene is normally characterized.

That was before Amazon.

That was before the internet made niche audiences reachable in a way that was previously impossible. If you are a world expert on the mating habits of newts, your book can not be published under the old model – you can try academic publishing or forget it; there just aren’t enough people out there interested in Newts… Except that’s not entirely true, with an educated population measured in billions a tiny tiny fraction is still many thousands of readers. You just need a way to reach them and a print on demand or usable eBook system. We have entered an age where we have both.

So are these books aimed at niche audiences? Perhaps, I read these guy’s blogs because I am interested in how succesful people work, how they fail and how they improve. I’m interested in how to operate better in the business world: How do you get the space to be creative? How do you gain the skills to drive projects that will really deliver something useful to the world? How do you live, work and grow in these spaces without drowning in bullshit HR or management buzz words about work/life balance? I guess that is a fairly narrow niche.

This does not mean that I’ve resumed blogging because I plan to eventually sell a book! I have no idea what niche exactly my blog is aimed at, which is exactly why it is doomed to be read forever only by a few people I know. Rather it’s because something I’ve learned from these three books is that there comes a point in time where you have to stop just consuming and start producing too. I think I’ll have more to say about that topic in the future too.

So should you buy and read these? Wait for the full reviews, but the short answers are; “it’s only 99 cents so why not”, “yes” and “definitely”.

3 Comments to A New Model of Publishing

  1. Sam Kington says:

    There’s a more charitable explanation: vanity publishers have historically been scams. Google Making Light Publish America for details – e.g. http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006032.html

  2. Sam Kington says:

    Consider also kickstarter – Rich Burlew is currently raising almost half a million dollars at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/599092525/the-order-of-the-stick-reprint-drive as, basically, the consequence of having slightly more than 1,000 fans. It’s somewhat of a PBS donation drive, in the sense that some people are willing to pay silly money to get autographed or personalised stuff, or because they want to pay him back for having produced his webcomic for free for all these years. But it’s also a way of getting economies of scale: by having x number of people chip in for up-front costs of getting full colour books printed, Burlew gets a cheaper rate per individual book, and ends up with plenty of copies he can subsequently sell through standard channels.