Last week, I was complaining to my husband that there are too many "authors" around these days. We’re basically a-dime-a-dozen. I stuttered, red-faced, bemoaning how the accomplishment of publication via traditional houses has been diminished by the advent and ever-increasing popularity of self publication.
My husband, a.k.a. The King of Reality Checks, said, "What’s the big deal? Who cares about publishers anyway? No one looks at that."
Well that knocked the wind out of my self-righteous sails.
Then I read, in its entirety, A Book Publisher’s Manifesto for the 21st Century by Sara Lloyd. J.T. referred to it in her excellent post on Friday. In the manifesto, the author takes a cold, hard look at the relevance of book publishers today and whether they’ll have the savvy and cojones to survive tomorrow.
At a time when MWA and other professional writers’ organizations are beginning to toughen up membership requirements based on traditional publishing practices; when fan conventions are doing the same; when people are opting for more control over their work and the speed with which their writing is published; when there are all kinds of "co-op" publishers; when major publishers themselves have gravitated toward blockbuster products rather than midlist author development; where there are more books than ever before but fewer of them are being read; when grammar and editing seem to be falling by the wayside (I can think of several reasons why this is happening. Another post, perhaps?) . . .
A person has to ask:
Have traditional publishers simply become obsolete?
Does publisher brand matter at all? Do Harlequin or St. Martin’s mean anything anymore? Is Simon & Schuster still known for quality? Do Random House, Mira, Intrigue, Soho, Poisoned Pen or Tor carry any value-added as far as the customer is concerned?
I don’t know, but those questions beget more:
Will publishers as we know them become such behemoths, slow moving beasts, that even traditionally-published authors will opt to self-publish in order to get rid of the middlemen (publishers and distributors)? When the big chains install print-on-demand machines in their stores, will there be any benefit whatsover by going the traditional route?
When a person looks at the pure monetary outlay vs. income, self-publishing has a certain appeal.
But . . .
I like to think that the fact that I was published by an academic press with a sterling reputation and stringent standards means something. I’d like to think that readers expect a certain amount of vetting, editorial scrutiny, and high production values before a book comes to market.
Have I been deluding myself?
Do readers care?