Why I’m a little tired of hearing from Mark Coker

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, an online indie self-publishing marketplace with a C- better business bureau rating, says that “self-published ebooks will account for 50 percent of ebook sales by 2020”.

That’s ebook sales, not book sales. I think it’s easier for us to imagine that self-published authors will out-pace sales of conventional published books due at least in part to the shear volume of material.

In a Huffington Post article, Coker outlines his rationale and predictions for why self-publishing will be dominant. I’d like to take the opportunity to parse his specific points:

1-2) Print will decline as book-reading format, Brick and mortar bookstores are disappearing – Both true, and something Coker is apparently not happy about. It’s not hard to find eBook advocates who espouse the virtues of physical books and stores. I do most of my reading on an eReader now and yet I still surround myself with physical books. What I’ll actually mourn is secondary stores like Half Price Books. Doesn’t anybody remember when Barnes & Noble and Borders were the threat?

3) The perceived value of publishers will decline in the eyes of writers – I don’t buy this. Even though I’m a self-published author, and intend to continue doing so for certain books, I doubt any one of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to be picked up by a major publisher, especially if it involves a physical book you can sign for others. That’s how you know you’ve arrived. Print on demand is nice but doesn’t feel quite the same. I think until you get a generation of writers who have no relationship with physical books, you’ll still have a desire in the back of your mind to “really” publish as opposed to self-publishing. 2020 is too soon for that to change.

4-5) Indie authors have learned to publish like professionals, The stigma once associated with self publishing is disappearing –  Partially true and getting truer with self-publishing being branded as indie publishing. Diversity of projects is definitely a benefit as is not having to prove profitability immediately. However, I think the more likely outcome is “hybrids” both print and self-publishers (like Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi). They tend to make the most in terms of royalty and have loyal brands around themselves.

6-8)  The number of self-published eBooks will explode, Successful indies are mentoring the next generation of writers, Writers are discovering the joy of self publishing – Point 6, Agreed. Point 7, True but not personally relevant to every writer as many of us are a rowdy and independent bunch. Point 8, advertising for Smashwords? Truthfully no long form project is exactly a joy and royalties widely vary depending on venue and choices made. That said, I am proud of producing my own eBook product and testing it myself, but this appeals more to the programmer and less to the writer side of myself.

9) Readers don’t care about the publishers name on the ebook’s virtual spine – Agreed. Except I like Baen and Tor for DRM free reasons.

10) There’s a growing rift between writers and publishers – I know writers who resent the “gatekeeper” model of the publishing industry, low royalties, having to self-advertise etc. Don’t imagine the self-publishing world solves all those problems. Search engines are the new gatekeepers even before the readers, higher percentages matter less when you have to price lower to be competitive, and self-advertising is true either way.

Here’s my bottom line takeaway:

1) Indie (Self Pub) Authors need to be open to all avenues of publication (books, eBooks, magazines, blogs, etc.)

2) Writing and publishing are tough jobs and neither have many short cuts.

3) You need to have a good idea of your actual goal (to put your story out there for a few friends, a few hundred enthusiasts, or hundreds of thousands of readers). Do I want to make a living writing, or do I just write to live?

What do you think?

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3 Comments

Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing, Writing Goals

3 responses to “Why I’m a little tired of hearing from Mark Coker

  1. Personally, I think the writing world desperately needs its “gatekeepers,” if only because of Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. Without somebody out there doing the hard work of separating the good from the bad, you’re just swimming in a sea of crap. That job may or may not keep belonging to traditional publishers, but it’s got to be done by somebody.

    • Yeah, I don’t particularly resent gatekeepers personally. Rejection is part of the writing game, and part of what helps you hone your craft and actually get better. The only thing that troubles me about the new gatekeepers is that they are largely algorithmically based. Or financially based. Not that publisher didn’t do things out of financial motives 🙂

  2. Pingback: Readers vs. Watchers: The Digital Revolution is Not Over | claudenougat

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