Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kobo becomes Publisher

News story on Kobo following Amazon's example to become a publisher as well as a book seller:

What drives me crazy in this media frenzy about Amazon and Kobo etc "cutting out the middleman — the publishers" is that is not what is happening at all. It is a complete misstatement/ misunderstanding of what publishing is and what publishers do. This sort of coverage greatly adds to the confusion around developments in the publishing industry and increases the likelihood of new writers making serious mistakes.

When Amazon announces that it is publishing 122 new books this year, this is not an example of authors going direct to consumers, this is an example of a distributor adding a publishing house to their business. Amazon is doing, with these 122 books, everything that a publisher does — providing for cover art, book design and extensive editing — the whole 9 yards. This isn't cutting out publishers, this is joining the ranks of publishers. It's a development with all sorts of interesting implications: what if Amazon gives preference to its own titles over other publishers titles in its distribution arm. In the long term, the danger is that a few massive online distributors like Amazon may be the only market left standing, with worrisome issues about monopoly and censorship. But it is NOT a story about "eliminating the publisher".

The story that Amazon is "cutting out the middle man--the publisher"— is already long past. Amazon has been selling self-published ebooks for years. Selling self-published ebooks for which the author has found the coverart themselves and foregone editing and book design is an example of cutting out the middleman, because these books have been written but not published. (I would argue that there is an analytical difference between Arthur Slade self-publishing books that have been professionally edited, designed and have professional coverart, and the authors that Krista has been complaining about who put their books up on Amazon without even proofreading their drafts. The former is self-publishing, the latter is non-published.)

For years the public and many beginning writers have believed that publishers took an author's book, distributed it, and skimmed off 90% of the profits in the process. The steps of refereeing, editing, design, marketing, etc remain largely invisible to the public, and mere annoying barriers to many beginning authors. Media coverage of the emergence of publisher-distributors like Amazon is not helping to resolve this confusion, but rather compounds it. The result, I am afraid, is many more authors choosing to 'go with Amazon' by which they will mean uploading their unedited, underdeveoped, manuscripts rather than submitting to Amazon's publishing arm and getting (from all accounts) really good covers and editing....