Self-publishing Becoming Viable?

This past week, Apple announced their new textbook initiative, and along with it, new tools to publish on the iBooks bookstore. This, along with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), provides authors access to platforms to self-publish electronic books. Now, according to Seth Godin, this isn’t publishing, it’s just “printing”. While I agree that the marketing aspect of both Apple’s iBook Author and KDP are certainly missing, there are elements of Seth’s argument I don’t agree with, or more correctly, don’t believe are relevant: getting your book on shelves. On that point, I think Seth has missed the mark: having a physical book in print is becoming less and less important, given the apparent rise in electronic book purchases. Amazon recently announced they sold more books in electronic form than in print form. I fully expect that to be echoed with other booksellers like B&N, Chapters/Indigo in Canada and retailers elsewhere. As much as I still enjoy physical books, electronic books are where the industry is heading.

That being said, it  is important to consider the marketing aspect. Just like putting an app on the iTunes App Store or Android Market isn’t a guaranteed road to riches, publishing your work on KDP or with iBooks Author won’t necessarily make you the next Stephen King or Tom Clancy. Yes, these services (like the various app stores) remove a lot of barriers. It puts your product into a readily-accessible and searchable inventory. They take care of payment, distribution and delivery. That is important. But it isn’t the whole picture if you are looking for self-sustaining success (or at a minimum, the ability to make enough to pay rent and buy groceries). Without taking actions that build awareness, and make your work visible, your product becomes just another item in an ever-expanding inventory.

I would expect that the next service we could see the rise of are publishing/marketing services aimed at smaller shops building apps or people self-publishing books. I suspect there are a ton of companies that claim to do this, I it wouldn’t surprise me that some are going to be less than scrupulous. But what I haven’t seen in the tech industry press is any sort of excitement or visibility for companies to help self-publishers promote their work and build their brand. If they are out there, they are doing a lousy job of promoting themselves (in which case, I’m not sure that I would want to use them. If you can’t improve your own visibility, why would I believe you can improve mine). I would expect this breed of “on-demand” marketing and brand promotion/awareness will be an amalgam of some traditional marketing elements (such as advertising) combined with social media components. I fully expect people to claim they are doing this, but if they are, why haven’t I heard of them? It would be sad if I have to exert serious effort to track them down. Again, it seems contrary to their purpose.

Until that time, true success in any kind of publishing (apps, books) will still rely on either some amount of self-promotion, finding a way to get a bigger marketing organization interested in helping, or luck. The first two have some measurable chance of success. The third isn’t something you can rely on.