Writers Are The New Publishers

In my last post I talked about $0.99 eBooks in the context of industry disruption. Today, I want to talk about what looks like a corollary to that trend: the writer-as-publisher.

Tim O’Reilly said recently that he believed a small group of successful indie writers will soon create their own publishing outfits. He has some authority on the matter: O’Reilly, after all, started out as a self-publisher, before he began doing it for other people. Today, O’Reilly Media, Inc is a multi-million dollar publishing outfit, one of the few successfully adapting to a digital shift.

I think this makes sense, and I’m not going to spend too much time on the obvious advantages:

1) Successful independent writers have ‘been there and done that’. If you were a writer you would probably be attracted to the idea of having an accomplished indie writer (say, J.A. Konrath?) help you with your ebook. Think: is it a good trade to give away the difficulties of designing, marketing, and selling your ebook to indie-writers who are well-experienced in the matter? They get to take a small cut of your ebook sales, you get to focus on writing. I think it’s a good trade.

2) The margins for a small, writer-as-publisher startup makes a lot of sense. You’re not likely to make much per book, but thanks to the economics of the digital bookstore, you are likely to make a sizable amount — so long as you gather a small team of editors and designers, and focus on releasing as many ebooks as possible. The long tail of digital economics would ensure that you’ll make money for about as long as your ebooks are online (which can be forever, if they’re on the Kindle store).

We’re already seeing several web fiction writers turn to publishing. Last week I linked to Alexandra Erin’s new outfit, LitSnacks. This week I spent some time browsing through web fiction author MCM’s catalog, over at his 1889.ca website. He’s lent his ebook and design expertise to a small (but growing!) number of authors, under the 1889 Labs label.

We’ll soon see more of these publishers, I bet. And — yes — these outfits will still be in the margins of the publishing industry. But they will be profitable, and they will grow as the market grows.

Writing this article has made me realize that there are really two barriers to publishing at the moment: one bit of it is technological, which we’re trying to solve with the software we’re writing at Pandamian; the other bit is process — the very human effort of taking a book from manuscript to market. These small publishing outfits are likely to be the solution to the process problem, and I look forward to seeing how they solve the intricacies of editing, design, and ebook production in a low-margin, high-output context.

Note: I’d love to hear from you, if you are (or you know of) a writer-turned-publisher. Just leave a link to your outfit in the comments, and I’ll include you in a roundup post next week.

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Category: Publishing