Following up on the previous post, I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider where we are as a culture, and how we might evolve in the future relative to independent authorship and self-publishing.
The current explosion of interest in self-publishing is being driven by a number of factors, not all of them constant. I believe that as long as the internet exists, people will use it to reach out to each other without engaging the services of middlemen and gatekeepers. That goes for everything from private conversations to business — meaning, ultimately, that every attempt to mediate those direct connections will ultimately fail, if only to inevitably be reborn in some slick new guise. Whether we’re talking about sites like Facebook or device manufacturers like Apple, they’re all simply along for the ride, even as they purport to be driving the revolution.
What’s important to remember with regard to self-publishing is that what we are witnessing today is the explosive origin of what will be a future norm. As such there’s a built-in, pent-up demand for this new opportunity that simply won’t exist in the future. It’s not just kids or hipsters who are learning how to use the internet to do things like self-publish books, it’s everybody, all at once. In a generation or two, however, it really will be only the kids who need to be taught. Like young drivers they’ll learn at a developmentally appropriate age how to use the same self-publishing tools their older siblings, parents and grandparents have been using most of their lives.
Today there are clearly a lot of people who have always wanted to self-publish a book or two. Whether those books are collections of family recipes or deranged manifestos, until now these personal works have been financially and technologically beyond the reach of most would-be authors. This pent-up demand, again, crosses all generations, but over time — and perhaps a relatively short amount of time — that demand is going to be flushed out. Yes, there will be people who decide to pursue self-publication either as a hobby or avocation, but most would-be self-publishers will produce the titles they’ve always wanted and then stop. Or they’ll hang out a shingle and try to make a few bucks helping other independent authors realize their own pent-up dreams.
It’s also important to note that there’s a perfect convergence right now between the availability of self-publishing and the amount of time people have on their hands. If you crater the economy and drive millions of people into unemployment, they’re going to look around for something to do. If they’ve always wanted to self-publish a book they now have the time, and can probably afford to get it done. They may even have extra motivation to explore self-publishing as a means of making a buck or two when a couple of extra bucks would really be handy.
For these reasons, then, I think the current avalanche of demand for and interest in self-publishing will necessarily decrease — perhaps quite precipitously — as people find more time-consuming and remunerative pursuits, and as pent-up demand becomes satisfied over time. Which means those writers who are determined to take the long view, both in terms of future works and the value or present works, will almost certainly find themselves in a less-crowded market in the future. Which strikes me as a very good place to be.
— Mark Barrett