Self-Publishing: Harbinger of Doom or Puffy White Cloud of Hope?

I’ve recently done a spate of media interviews wherein the main topic was the “rise” of self-publishing. It’s an interesting media trend, founded largely by the appearance and development of innovative new web communities that are focusing on bringing together those interested in creating great bookswho may or may not already consider themselves book professionals.

There’s no doubt that it’s been an interesting summer for those interested in the evolution of book creation online. The alpha version of The Book Oven was released. The beta version of BookRiff is available to check out. WEbook, Protagonize, TextNovel and scores of other writer-based communities continue to work collaboratively to create, refine and display new talent from (mostly) unpublished authors.

So what does this all mean for traditional publishing?

Hugh McGuire, one of the founders of Book Oven, sees the role of his new site thusly (yep, I just wrote thusly. And I’m keeping it):

The key here is: cloud-publishing (and Book Oven) will provide the tools to allow groups of people to easily coalesce around the production, distribution and sale of a particular book or books. How those groups organize themselves will look different from book to book. But Book Oven’s tools will mean that book makers can focus on the important thing, the content, and not worry about the technical hurdles of making, printing & distributing books.

Hugh’s whole post is worth reading as it makes a compelling argument for the differences between “self-publishing” and the new tool and collaboration-based “cloud publishing” that Book Oven, and arguably other sites like it, are developing.

For traditional publishing, this really invokes the spectre of what Neelan Choksi, CEO of Stanza, called a “flight to value”. As I’ve argued before, we as a professional industry exist because we can provide good books. Good service for authors who write those good books. Convenient access for readers who want those good books.

Is the blockbuster culture going to go away? I’m not sure. As much as we talk about Web 2.0 and the forces of collaborative culture, we’re also seeing the big head, rather than the long tail, stay big (or get bigger). But maybe that’s not the big question…maybe the question is where do projects like authoring communities, mash-up books and collaborative creation fit into the new publishing model? Where can partnerships be made to spur all to greater heights?

Instead of seeing self-publishing or cloud-publishing as a direct competitor to trade publishing, do as D&M is doing. BookRiff is not a threat to their publishing house but, rather, an evolution using new tools at hand to continue to do what they do best. Creating great books that are designed to make readers happy and keep them reading is what we all aspire to do. Working together seems like the best way to do that.