Self publishing as a threat to niche

And not so niche
I wrote a post some time ago now on how Blurb was a real threat to publishers of small to medium size. I wrote then:

Using the template it is a very simple task to construct and edit a book. The ease with which this can be done is unsettling for me. I work with a publisher of limited run titles. Few rate over 2000 on an initial print run. To date, the key benefits we could offer to authors of books published through our company were quality of design, access to distribution, access to retail and other sales channels and of course we take on the risk of publishing costs and pay royalties to the author removing the dangers that self published authors have of not receiving payment for the books other sell on their behalf. took away the fear authors might have that they would be left holding the baby as it were with lots of stock and no buyers, it also resolved the payment problem (As have many other online selling and payments solutions). That left the problem of design, many self published titles suffer from poor design and lack of quality. Blurb resolves that quite easily.

I’ve since moved to Mercier where although we operate mostly in a solid niche (Irish history & Biography being our core market), I’ve not forgotten or> Blurb has expanded its offering and is even hosting a directory of professional designers to help authors layout and design their books; Blurbnation and is running a photography book competition. is offering publishing packages and community functions on its site.

I mention this today because I was guided to a CNN story about Lisa Genova who self published [with iUniverse] her way to a deal with Simon & Schuster and whose now traditionally published novel Still Alice is in The New York Times Bestsellers list for the twelfth week. A rather nice BookVideos clip beneath this graph, it’s worth watching.

Genova is hardly a trend on her own I hear yo say and you are correct, she is not. But she does show that the fracturing of the market is such that even self-publishers have huge potential wins coming their way By dint of the large numbers now engaged in self-publishing books, some of the books will be decent at least. Some will be far, far better than decent and those books may well evade the traditional publishing route, just as the hard-working software coders of 37Signals, yet another of my favourite, self publishing, examples have with their smash hit Getting Real.

Is this really a route to market?
For non-fiction I think there will be an increasing tendency for the market to fracture by niche enabling authors at the micro and more modest level to prosper. I don’t think this will necessarily mean that no project will warrant a publisher’s investment rather that the viable ground for traditional publishing will move increasingly up the chain towards a realm where print runs are of a minimum of 4000-5000 units. Small beer for some of the larger houses but a big deal for most publishers in Ireland and I suspect worldwide.

Perhaps like Mike Shatzkin preaches we can prevent this by aggregating a niche and serving its needs (that would in essence provide other services to compensate the author for the lost revenue from self publishing. Publishers would be spending time and money on audience creation and cultivation alongside their current role of content gathering and curation. In many respects that is what Osprey are doing with Military History.

The top down problem
Of course if bottom is moving upwards, I believe very soon the top rank will move down. Traditional publishers will lose authors to outfits that are prepared to service their careers in every fashion, from events to books, to online exploitation. Andrew Keen made a point at a conference in London that I attended last year. He said that the bulk of his money came from speaking, not writing. When that is the case, why does it make sense for a top-level author to stay with a house that is primarily focused on creating and selling books?

Surely it will be in a top ranked author, the kind who can pull a crowd in any city in the world to move to a talent agency that manages everything like Livenation have started to do with musicians.

Leaving publishers either dead, the middle or adapted
I’m not a big fan of dead, so I think for now we can swim towards the middle and try and move a little bit more into the 4-10,000 unit range of publishing*. There are problems in this area and the main problem is that retailers are pushing the front list much more aggressively and the midlist is suffering. The bulk of those 4-10,000 unit books are smack bang in the midlist as far as retailers are concerned.

Adapted like Osprey then seems an attractive option but presents challenges for a diverse list without a single focus. Even if one can identify a niche where a publisher has a competitive advantage, is that niche a sustainable market likely to support the company for the future, or like newspapers will there be a period of re-adjustment which see staff loses, restructuring and deep unease within the industry?

I’m not sure anyone has the answers to this questions, and it may well be that the premise they are based on is a flawed one. Perhaps self-publishing will not successfully undermine the smaller publishers. One way or the other, any independent publisher needs to, at the very least, be thinking about what that would mean for them if it did happen! I shudder to think of what will happen to the larger trade publishers when top ranking authors start to move away from publishers in large numbers.

Let’s hope it never gets as bad as we fear it might, let’s hope the centre can hold because by my estimation that us where the market for publishers exists.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
William Butler Yates

*I remind you that all opinions expressed on this site are my own, see my disclaimers. Also bear in mind that in discussing numbers and trends I am focused on the Irish Market which is not, by any stretch if the imagination, a large one!

More on O’Reilly TOC

Eoin Purcell

If you weren’t enormously envious of everyone at TOC before now . . .
(And personally I was) then you will be now. It is not just that everyone who is anyone is going, its that the discussions sound so wonderful too.

For instance the POD discussion covered on the O’Reilly pages by Simon St. Laurent:

Why? I think the basic reason is simple – I’m one of those terrible people who’s always looking for books you can’t find easily in stores. They’re out-of-print, available only from the publisher, or otherwise obscure. Ingram was my friend when I ordered through stores, and then Amazon made a lot of things easier. At O’Reilly, I want POD for all kinds of reasons, from keeping old books in print to providing a way to test out new ideas without having to print 5000 books.

I’ve been expecting POD to happen for years. I spent too much time working at Kinko’s, I guess – I’d seen books getting made, if not the fine offset books typically sold in bookstores.

So here, now, it looks like it’s finally here. Lightning Source and other printers are offering print from PDF at rates that aren’t too insanely horrible relative to offset plus the cost of warehousing.

There’s still definitely a place for offset printing – offset has great economies of scale, and if books move out quickly, then the warehousing and other distribution costs don’t matter much. Offset will probably always make sense for initial print runs of books that will sell thousands of copies in a year – but that’s actually a relatively tiny share of the total number of books out there.

You can read much much more of the detail here. At least TOC has enabled em to widen my blog count for publishing and innovation in publishing. So for that at least thank you Tim O’Reilly.

An envious book nerd.

Links of Interest (At least to me) 2007006017

Eoin Purcell

The Return
It has come to my attention that although the link blog does get visited, links I really really like don’t get the usual traffic. So I am reinstating Links of Interest. Here goes.

LibraryThing goes over 15,000,000 books (Now that is a lot of books).

LibraryThing demonstrates something we always knew—that regular people have a lot of books—probably many times what all the world’s libraries hold. I’ve never seen the relative numbers discussed. It never mattered before, but now that regular people can put their catalogs online and engage in tasks, like tagging and work disambiguation, that bear on age-old issues of library science, it’s not entirely pointless to compare the two.

I don’t know why for sure, but I’m desperately excited by the this news. Mcclatchy are launching a new news website nationally in the US. They also run a spiffy blog for news editors called Etaoin Shrdlu (Yeah the name took me a minute too, so here‘s an explanation link).

For all you curious this link is certainly a beaut. Simple, structured, its like the missing manual for Here

Blurb to jump into Europe

Eoin Purcell

Where only has gone before is to expend some effort in building market share in Europe according to The Book Standard:

Starting next month, the company will launch specific website improvements geared toward European users, including the option to view Blurb books in metric dimensions and see prices and buy books with local currencies. The improvements will allow international Blurb users to create, publish and ship books for less.

Important or not?
Blurb has always worried me from the perspective of a publisher. The software it provides they increasingly powerful while remaining easy to use. Whereas provides excellent printing for your average paperback, I see blurb attacking niches.

If you read the links Thursday to this report on Trade Publishing and the importance of niches, then you will begin to understand that worry.

After all as the power to design and print books shifts from the hands of publishers and becomes decentralised why should we be able to retain the market share we currently have? Given that books published by and can be sold online (even at places like & and distribution is being outsourced to postal and delivery services, there is no limit to what these outfits can achive if they get into the minds of niche writers.

Takeover targets I wonder?
To a degree I wonder how likely Blurb or Lulu are to survive outside of one of the larger publishers. After all their technology would be beneficial. It would enable the big houses to attach themselves to the long tail. It would also enable them to offer their own POD service and not be totally reliant on Amazon’s or other players POD arms.

Alternatively they could always replicate the infrastructure themselves. But that would cost time, money and commitment not to mention an understanding fo the market. Much better to offer employment to the founders by buy out as Google and other tech focussed companies have been for some time.

Waiting for the first for sale sign

Good Vanity Publishing: How it should be done

Eoin Purcell

First decide what it is you want:
I have written before on the importance of knowing what you want from a book before deciding what route is the best option for you to take. I wanted to restate the case by pointing people in the direction of a service that I have stumbled across over the last few days. The company is called Granville Island Publishing and what I like about them is that they make no bones about what it is that they do:

When you have a manuscript and you want it published, you have three options: you can send it around to traditional publishers; you can publish it yourself; or you can publish it with us.
Sending your manuscript around to traditional publishers may well be the best option for you, especially if you would like someone else to finance the publication of your book, but it is generally very time consuming and often both frustrating and discouraging. And even if your book is accepted, you can expect an additional wait of up to two years before it is actually published.
Publishing your book yourself has the great advantage of allowing you to follow your own schedule and avoid these lengthy delays. True, it requires a financial investment on your part, but in return it enables you to control every stage of the publication process and to retain 100% of the profits from the sale of your book. And while the financial investment involved is significant, it is certainly less expensive than hiring someone to oversee the process for you.

You can read their explanations and FAQs and see more of this refreshing perspective.

And there are bad sites too
The main reason I was prompted to write about this topic again was stumbling across Original Writing’s site. Just read the differing descriptions of their service:

Our affordable package makes publishing your work simple. You’re guaranteed a finished product you can be truly proud of and the support and tools needed to promote and sell your book to a global audience.

Your work deserves to be beautifully showcased. Our expert designers will work closely with you on all aspects of your book’s design and layout. You retain full control at all times and can avail of:

* Professional inside page layout and typography.
* Full colour cover design.
* Access to our full range of book formats.
* Up to 5 full electronic proofs in PDF format for review.
* 1 hardcopy proof for final author approval prior to printing. See your work exactly as it will be printed.


Once you are fully satisfied with the design and layout of your book we will print and ship direct to your door:

* 75 free copies of your book to distribute locally or give to family and friends.
* 75 custom designed bookmarks to accompany your work.

We will also ensure that all appropriate legal and administrative requirements are fulfilled. These include:

* Assigning ISBN number and author’s copyright notice.
* EAN bar coding for retails sale.
* Deposit of copies in the National Libraries.(SIC)

Right out the door they are miscasting their service to authors and overcharging for the pleasure of it. They charge €1250.00 for the service (which in dollar terms works out at about $1650.00).

Other options
You can get these services at considerably cheaper prices too. For instance you can get free consultation from Integrative Ink who also offer some nicely priced design & formatting offerings. They start at $100 (for a short book of 40 pages and under) and the custom offer is $450.

When you consider that an extensive edit is $500 or so, and the design is $450 Of course you might need to have someone design a professional cover, which if you post the project to Elance or some other freelance site should cost under $250. At worst you can have the service offered above except for the 75 free books at $1200. Assuming a trim size of 6″x9″ and a page count of 160 and that you have chosen a black and white internal layout you can buy as little as a single unit from for about $8.00. If you want 75 books then it’ll cost you $473.25 before dispatch. All in all the cost will be in the same region as Original Writing but here is the rub. It does not have to be. You don’t need to have an extensive edit if the book is for your own purposes, you do not need to have a professional cover if you are aiming the book at only your family. You sure do not need 75 copies if there are only 20 people who want to read a copy.

Do it yourself
What is even more important is that you need not have your book professionally designed. You can if you choose use a guide like Perfect Pages and do the whole thing on your personal computer using Microsoft Word and PDF creator technology. Then print with Lulu or some other POD printer and you have a book that cost time and effort and perhaps $8.00 a book.

If you want full colour and images then Blurb offers you a free design program that works. Though to my mind their books are expensive for anything other than very short runs, the execution is excellent and they are a very good company and one that is opening up the market to consumers.

Honesty is everything
Be honest with yourself about your purpose in publishing. Are you aiming for huge acclaim or bestseller status? Then traditional publishing is still your best route (not everyone has the built in market of the 37signals folks, see here). If you expect modest sales through retail outlets and know how to reach those outlets and get them to order your book (a harder task than it appears) you may well be a good candidate for self publishing of the type I have described or for a Vanity Press. On the other hand if you want six books, or thirty, for your family and friends perhaps of the online POD services will be easier, quicker and most importantly less expensive.

Its blue Monday today, apparently the most depressing day of the year, ever!

If anyone is interested in discussing these ideas my privately feel free to drop me an e-mail:
eoinpurcellsblog AT