Self-publishing and ebooks do not create a level playing field for writers

Watch this episode on YouTube It's all kicking off in the world of self-publishing and ebooks.

The Kindle is now very affordable and the iPad is like the sexiest book in the world apart from a real sexy book that's littered with filth and stinky sex talk. The times, quite frankly, are a-changing.

And I'm down with that. I really am.

In fact, I want to make it clear that this episode is in no way intended as an anti-self-publishing diatribe or a whistful longing for tradition. No. It's about technology and pragmatism. That's all.

Let's get real

It's hard to move around the blogosphere and Twitterverse without bumping into some post or another about the rise of ebooks and the changes taking place in the publishing industry.

I picked out a couple of articles on my other (brilliant, go and subscribe) blog, Broomeshtick.

Writing for Newsweek, in an article called Self-publishing: Who needs a publisher anymore?, Isia Jasiewicz quoted author, J.A. Konrath as saying:

“It’s an even playing field for the first time,” says J. A. Konrath, a thriller author (Whiskey Sour) who plans to release all his future novels as self-published Kindle books. “The gatekeepers have become who they should have been in the first place: the readers.”

And that phrase jumped out at me - level playing field - because it's one I've heard a few times over the last couple of years as the e-revolution has gathered momentum.

This was my response:

I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s an even playing field at all. It’s only even if all writers have the technical will, knowhow and time to transform their manuscript into a sexy PDF. And then market the hell out of it. Some people, you know. Some people just want to write.

And I stand by it. In the UK we have 10 million people who still don't have internet access. Of course, most of those are likely to be elderly, living in difficult circumstances or simply not interested.

But I bet some of them are writers.

My point is this: a level playing field is a place or environment where no one person or group of people has an advantage. In the world of e-publishing, e-people have an advantage. And a huge headstart.

The came Seth

You may have heard, but marketing guru and he-of-extremely-shiny-head-fame, Seth Godin, decided this week to only publish ebooks from now on.

Everyone was, and still is, talking about it and making some very good points. But my favourite article was this one: Publishing is dead, long live publishing by Shiv Singh on Going Social Now.

Here's what he wrote:

Time will tell whether other leading authors adopt a similar model [as Seth Godin]. For an author, nothing is better than being able to get closer to your reader. The question is whether this model will work and whether other authors have the personal brand, the distribution platform and most importantly the courage to try something like this. I’d argue that if book publishers followed the model I outlined in this deck, they’d be less worried about what’s happening around them.

Leaving aside the fact that Seth Godin has a huge audience and the kind of platform that the rest of us can only dream of, I responded to Shiv's article by saying:

There’s been an awful lot of fuss made about Seth Godin deciding to go digital only. In fact, advocates for self-publishing have been completely cock-a-hoop about it, heralding the move as some kind of tipping point for the publishing industry.

This article by Shiv Singh on Going Social Now brings a bit of sanity to proceedings, while still recognising Godin’s decision as significant, which I think it is.

However, for the overwhelming majority of writers, self-publishing ebooks creates more obstacles than clears paths.

Far from create the proverbial ‘level playing field’, it generates a whole new set of skills, both writing-related and technical, that the writer must have.

And that’s fine. One day we’ll all have those skills. Writers will know how to create a PDF. They’ll know how to set up a blog. They’ll know how to market their work through social media.

But this is a time of change. For the moment, we are learning. And we are not Seth Godin.

Which led me to this

So with all this in mind, I decided to talk a little more about this subject in this week's episode. It's a really interesting area and I think we should all be excited about what's happening.

As I say at the end of this video, I think we online writers, those of us who already have technology as part of our everyday writing lives, have a responsiblity to help those writers who don't.

Only then, when we're all equipped with the necessary techno-knowledge, can we think about calling the playing field, or whatever the metaphor might be, level.