This week, NPR has run two opposing radio spots: one about the evolving self-publishing industry, featuring the founder of Smashwords, and one about traditional publishing's "golden age."
This hits close to home for me, since I've been planning on self-publishing the novel series I am currently working on -- as the first radio spot said, self-publishing is the first choice for some authors (and I was planning on using Smashwords as well). So, granted, I may be a bit biased in my assessment of these two stories.
I agreed with much of what Mark Coker, Smashwords's founder, said: Self-publishing is becoming more socially acceptable. Whereas it used to be a "last resort," as Coker says in the radio spot, there are many authors now who have chosen it as their first choice for a variety of reasons: because they can get their books out faster that way, because they retain rights over their own work, and so on. And there are some very business-savvy self-published writers out there right now, authors who know that the way they present and market their books is what makes the difference between a successful self-published author and a failed one.
Speaking of marketing, I think it's especially interesting that in the other story, the one thing that is cited as the reason why authors go with traditional publishing is actually the one thing most authors don't get to reap the benefits of. Traditional publishers don't usually bother with marketing smaller authors and their books -- they save their marketing budgets for the bestsellers and the big authors. Sure, there might be some authors who choose traditional publishing because they don't want to have to do their own marketing, but if that is their reasoning they will be disappointed! Quite to the contrary, I think authors choose the traditional route because they think it's the higher accomplishment (though most avid readers can attest that despite traditional publishers' vetting process, a lot of books make it into print that just aren't very good).
And there's another very interesting trend right now: self-published authors being picked up by traditional publishers. I was talking to a successful self-published author not long ago who explained it like this: Traditional publishing still has the ability to get your books in front of a wider audience, so a successful self-published author who takes a traditional contract triples his or her fan base, and then can return to self-publishing (and its higher royalties) with that many more readers.
Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing is a very interesting debate, but I think as technology continues to make self-publishing easier and less expensive than it used to be, more writers are going to choose to go that route. Sure, they won't all be like Amanda Hocking, but if authors start thinking less like artists and more like entrepreneurs, there is actually a lot of potential there!