Independent ebook websites like Smashwords and Feedbooks are giving indie authors an unprecedented advantage by letting these authors distribute their work without the gatekeeper of traditional publishers. While the digital domain has not been perfected, indie authors are coming out of hiding and setting their writing free into the world.
Authors Can Learn From Music Industry
For a long time large record labels controlled the music industry. If your band didn’t have a contract with a record label, your music career wasn’t going anywhere. But as the internet began to spread and music became digitized, the record labels fought these new distribution methods while musicians embraced the new technology.
The result? Bands have little need for large record labels today because they can do everything on their own thanks to the technology that’s available. Over the last decade the record labels have become less relevant and the RIAA has resorted to suing their own customers for alleged copyright infringement. Indie authors are following in the same footsteps as these bands who gave the virtual finger to the record labels.
I think the trend will continue and we’ll see more authors taking the indie route. There is still a stigma to self-publishing, but the stigma is slowly dying as self-publishing becomes more mainstream and accepted. It helps that a lot of bestselling authors today self-published their book before landing a publishing contract. My favorite example is Lisa Genova’s book Still Alice (aff link), which had been rejected by numerous publishers until she sold it on her own.
Large publishing houses still have one advantage
I will give credit where credit is due. Publishers do have the advantage of a vast distribution network and can get books onto the shelves of chain bookstores (i.e. Barnes & Noble and Borders) with ease. They have the infrastructure and network in place to move a lot of books all over the world.
To further complicate things for indie authors, however, the large bookstores usually won’t consider stocking a self-published book for one reason: The books can’t be returned if it doesn’t sell. This must-be-returnable policy has long been a controversial issue among publishers and authors alike, and a pain in the side for all indie authors. Again, this gives the large publishing houses an advantage because of agreements with the book chains and their large distribution network.
And as much as they have been criticized for putting the indie bookstores out of business, the large chain booksellers are vital for new releases and any author who wants to make the bestseller list cannot survive without the likes of Barnes & Noble. This might be a necessary evil, but it certainly doesn’t help indie authors.
A light at the end of the tunnel
I think it’s fair to say that not all indie authors have aspirations of making the bestseller list. Look at some of the titles on the list at any given time – a lot of those books are popular because they appeal to large audiences, meaning the writing can be mediocre at best. A good example is Dan Brown’s most recent book The Lost Symbol. Many around the web called Brown a hack and deeply criticized his writing.
Indie authors want to be independent for a reason. They want to write something unique, that probably won’t appeal to the masses. For indie authors, it’s not about reaching the largest possible audience, it’s more about reaching an eclectic group of readers that can truly appreciate a book or short story that is different than what you find in mainstream literature.
My own goal as a writer is not to reach the bestseller list, and not even to land a contract with a large publishing house. My goal is to write what I want to write and find a niche audience to cater to. I also want to control my own career and not be bound by a contract that takes away even the copyrights to my own writing.
Even the distribution advantage that traditional publishers have is being minimized. The internet is becoming the great equalizer and letting authors publish their works, many with great success, in digital format without the need for a large expensive distribution network. And if those indie authors want to release their novels in print, they can do so easily by self-publishing their books and selling them on their own via their author website/blog.
Indie authors becoming a formidable foe
In conclusion, traditional publishers have a lot to fear from indie authors. Their role as gatekeepers to the collective literary canon is being chipped away at with great speed. These publishers are decreasing the number of new authors they sign, and giving these new authors only minimal marketing support. They are throwing most of their money behind the big-name popular authors who can rake in millions of dollars.
Authors now have a choice when publishing their work. They can go the traditional route or the indie route. What real advantage does the traditional route to publishing offer?