Last week, Bernard Starr, a writer for the Huffington Post, penned a somewhat controversial article that suggested that Traditional Publishing now deserved to be labeled with the term “vanity press”. The basis for his argument is the advantages of self publishing, such as creative control, speed-to-market and earnings potential far outweigh the advantages that traditional publishers now bring. He describes those as editing and bricks and mortar distribution. Editing services can certainly be outsourced to many competent people such as someone like Alan Rinzler. That leaves print distribution, which Starr argues is not that critical in today’s digital reader world.
Commentators on the current upheaval in publishing have observed that many authors desperately seek a traditional publisher when self-publishing would serve them far better. Traditional publishing has thus become, in many instances, the vanity choice. Does it make sense?
The new world of self-publishing has little in common with the old vanity publishing, but for many writers it still bears the taint of vanity. Self-publishing has not only democratized publishing, it has opened up the opportunity for authors to publish at low or no cost, own all the rights, control the pricing and timetable for publishing, and get their books listed for sale and distribution on major outlets and platforms — e.g. Amazon, kindle, nook, other e-readers, Google and more. Royalties for self-published books can range from thirty to eighty percent (depending on ancillary services that are selected) compared to the 71/2 to 15 percent in traditional publishing. And if you are adept at Internet marketing, you can reach large targeted audiences for your books.
Fact is that authors no longer need a publisher. And more and more writers are awakening to the realization that if you are not a high-profile author who can command large sales, a traditional publisher will do little for you beyond editing and printing your book. While it’s true that they will also distribute it to the waning number of brick-and-mortar bookstores — self-published books are not usually available in bookstores — the number that actually land on the shelves is surprisingly small. And the argument that self-published books are not widely reviewed in mainstream publications loses steam when you realize that only a tiny percent of traditionally published books are reviewed at all. Add to that the growing number of prestigious venues that now review self-published books.
If you want to read the full article, you can simply click on the Huff Books logo in this post.
Now whether you agree or disagree with his argument, and there are people on both sides, I think his point of view helps illustrate how much the world of publishing has changed and why authors need to make sure they stay informed of their options. That said I do believe it is unrealistic to think that authors, no matter how they chose to publish are going to be devoid of ego so to label one method as somehow more altruistic than another is naive. The reality is if you take the time to write a manuscript and publish it you must think there is something about you and what you have to share that is important to others. And that is OK. That’s why I think we should just let the term vanity press be put to rest. That will be the subject of a future blog post, but in the meantime, what do you think of Starr’s post? Use the comment section to let me know.