Publishing News: Self-publishing to be the option of first resort?

Mark Coker talks publishing disruption, the DOJ gets snippy, Robin Sloan programs a book review, and NFC gets a dispenser.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Self-publishing disruption

Suw Charman-Anderson at Forbes began running an interview series with Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker this week. The first in the series addressed the disruption of self-publishing in the traditional publishing world. Coker says the traditional publishing model is going to be turned upsidedown, that “self-publishing is going from the option of last resort to the option of first resort.” He notes that self-publishing often has had an associated stigma while traditional publishing has not, but says “over next few years we’re going to see that reverse.”

Coker also argues the disruption to traditional publishing isn’t only going to come from outside the traditional ecosystem:

“We’re also going to see a mass defection of some of the best traditionally published authors. This has already started to happen among primarily mid-list authors, who do reasonably well and then their books go out of print. A lot of those authors are republishing their back catalogues as self-published ebooks, and they are earning more money, enjoying more creative freedom, and having more fun than they did working under the thumb of traditional publishers.”

The disruption is becoming apparent in the sales of indie books, Coker says. He points out that “if you look at the top sellers on Barnes & Noble or Amazon, indie authors are appearing more frequently in their bestseller lists. They’re starting to dominate and take significant sales away from traditional publishers.”

In the second part of the interview series, Charman-Anderson talks with Coker about marketing. He says that “marketing is not as important as people think it is” and that writing a high-quality book is “the best marketing an author can do.” He notes that marketing is important for building a platform, but argues that investment in quality trumps investment in promotion:

“If you’re getting ready to release your book and you have $3,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you can either invest that in a marketing campaign or editing, I’d say invest it in editing. It’s all about writing a book that sells itself.”

Both series installments are well worth the read and can be found here and here. Charman-Anderson writes that the next interview in the series with Coker will address book pricing and length.

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DOJ’s response a bit “snippy”

The DOJ filed a 66-page response (PDF) to the 868 comments it received in regard to its antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers and the proposed settlement for Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly reports that “the Department of Justice has determined that the proposed ‘final judgment’ provides ‘an appropriate and effective remedy’ for the antitrust violations alleged in its complaint ‘and therefore is in the public interest.'” Milliot says the response addressed arguments that the lawsuit is feeding into an Amazon monopoly, calling them “highly speculative at best.”

John Mutter at ShelfAwareness took an in-depth look at the response as well and noted:

“The Justice Department also implied that its suit has already resulted in positive changes in the industry, saying that since the proposed settlement was announced, ‘more companies are investing to enter or expand in the market and compete against Amazon, Apple, and other e-book retailers.’ It cited Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and tablet computers that will be launched by Microsoft and Google.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt at CNNMoney called the response “overheated” and “snippy,” offering several examples, including:

“It uses highly charged language — ‘seismic shift,’ ‘hobbling retailers,’ ‘unfettered competition’ — yet insists that Apple’s arguments be ‘stripped of [their] rhetoric’ before it declares the company wrong, wrong, wrong on every point — as near as I can tell — of antitrust law.”

Elmer-DeWitt writes that in all fairness, he’d be defensive, too, “if public comments were running at better than 10 to 1 against me and I’d been just excoriated on the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page in the middle of an election year by one of the President’s most powerful allies in the Senate.” You can read more from his insights here.

Why didn’t I think of that?

There were a couple of stories for the impressive ingenuity file this week. Writer and media inventor Robin Sloan wrote a book review of Ellen Ullman’s 1997 memoir Close to the Machine as part of his Summer Reading series. In and of itself, a smart review from Robin Sloan isn’t surprising, but the book is a programmer’s memoir, so Sloan wrote it in JavaScript — the review is an interactive program. You can participate in the book review in his blog post.

NFC technology made an appearance in publishing news this week as well. NFC already is spilling into publishing technology, with B&N preparing to include it in the Nook, and this week, German design studio Razorfish demonstrated its application to ebook distribution — through a gumball machine. Matthew Humphries reports at

“The modified machine uses a Galaxy Tab as a display, two Arduino microcontrollers, and an NFC reader embedded in the front to allow delivery of the paid-for digital content. The user simply selects the content they want using the touchscreen (be it an app, movie, ebook, or music track), inserts a coin, turns the handle, and holds their device up to the NFC reader to have the content transferred.”

The NFC Gumball Machine is demonstrated in the following video:

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