I came upon an article in the Guardian yesterday, titled “Self-publishing: a revolution for writers, not readers“, by Anna Baddeley. The article mentions Apple’s new Breakout Books promotion, which promotes self-published titles. Apparently Barnes & Noble and Kobo have similar sections. Interestingly Amazon, sometimes hailed as a great cheerleader for self-publishers, doesn’t have an equivalent.
An email from the iBookstore claims that readers can “Discover emerging authors at great prices“, although Ms Baddeley describes the selection as the “usual selection of soft porn and mediocre crime“. What I find interesting about the article is that it points out that Apple benefits most from this promotion, not readers. Of course Apple benefits, that’s why they’ve decided to do this. If readers, writers, or anyone else benefits, that’s great, but it’s certainly not Apple’s main concern. I’m sure the reason B&N and Kobo have similar sections is because they think it will help their business, and I’m equally sure that the reason Amazon doesn’t have one is because they disagree. These companies all exist to make money, and that will always inform the decisions they make. They may decide that the best way to do it is to be extremely customer-focused and offer products as cheaply as possible, or they may decide it’s better to be utterly ruthless and get every last penny out of a customer, but they all aim to make as much money as possible. It amazes me how often people forget this.
There is another point from the article that I’d like to address. It finishes with the statement “let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart“. It may not have readers’ best interests at heart, but that doesn’t mean that readers don’t benefit. Personally, I believe they do. In January, I wrote a post about authors that I’d discovered in 2012. Of the six books that I recommended, four were self-published. That’s four books that I wouldn’t have been able to read if their authors hadn’t had the option to self-publish. The Guardian article is probably right that self-publishing isn’t a revolution for readers, but it’s not an unmitigated disaster either. Like most things in life, it has benefits and downsides.