Or, Taking a Play from the Philosopher’s Handbook*
*Because in philosophy, if the term you want doesn’t exist, you just make it up or redefine another word to mean what you want it to mean.
That’s what I’m going to start calling the kind of self-publishing that Amazon’s KDP and Smashwords and PubIt and Kobo Writer’s Life, etc.–hell, the web in general–allow. This is in contradistinction with “indie publishing” or “self-publishing,” which are currently in vogue to mean not traditional or “legacy” publishing.
The reason I think we need a new set of terms is twofold. First, terms that existed before digital DIY publishing exploded carry baggage that threaten the clear communication of what an author is doing when they “self-publish” nowadays. Second, I feel like the available terms that have been appropriated are not really as apt as they should be. The terms are having to be redefined in the public mind. Rather than have to explain how self-publishing now is not, you know, what it used to mean, why not use a new term that can be easily explained if someone doesn’t find it self-evident?
“Self-publishing” is often equated with “vanity publishing”–that is, paying someone to publish and distribute your book (out of pocket rather than as a profit-sharing venture, the way traditional publishing works). Self-publishing and vanity publishing are different, as self-publishing is you setting yourself up as your own publisher, fronting all the money and reaping all the profit, rather than paying someone to do that for you and still getting only some of the profit from sales. In the mind of the average person, though, they amount to the same thing–this writer can’t get someone to publish her novel the normal way, so she paid them to; her book must be terrible. With digital self-publishing, there is also, I believe, a perception of recklessness about it all, the idea that many writers seem to just toss up a story on Amazon to see if it will sell, rather than taking the time to educate themselves about the process of producing and publishing a book or ebook.
This is why I want a term that is more nuanced and considered than those loaded terms from the past. Digital self-publishing is not the same as the old style of self-publishing paper books, and many authors are doing more than just tossing up a book for the hell of it. I like the term “disintermediated publishing” because those of us who are treating our books like a publisher, except that we are publishing ourselves and taking on both all the risk and all the profit, are going directly to readers–or as directly to readers as is possible while still retaining a wide distribution. Basically we are setting up vendor accounts on sites like Amazon, which take a slice of the sales in exchange for giving us a space in its retail bazaar.
This point is an important one: the money made from sites like Amazon and Smashwords is not a “royalty.” It is the purchase price of the goods the author, acting as the vendor, is selling less the marketplace’s transaction fee. We need to start looking at it that way and stop using terms that have no applicabiulity to the new market and the new world order. I don’t like the comparison of Amazon’s 35% or 70% “royalty” to a traditional deal of 12% of cover (or whatever), because Amazon, et al, are not controlling my rights and paying me a fee every time those rights are exercised. They are skimming a flat fee off the sale transaction.
My terminology here may seem like a semantic game (*as, indeed, much of philosophy is accused of being), but in my opinion using precise terms is important to clearly communicate one’s position and circumstances.
While “self-published author” certainly works as a term for what I’m doing, it’s not a clear picture. I am not publishing myself because no one else will have me; I am publishing myself as a first resort, because I believe I have an audience and I do not believe the benefits a traditional publisher offer me will offset what they will cost me. Because I am unwilling to pay that price, and because in the digital age I have this option, I am choosing to bypass the middle-man. I am disintermediating my writing, taking it out of the hands of publishing and putting it directly into the hands of readers.
I am a disintermediated artist…and so is every person on the web who publishes a blog or a Youtube channel or any other type of original content without ceding its control to a media company.