This is a slightly edited version of part of my input to a discussion on a publishing forum.

People seem to either love or hate the big publishers and either support or are contemptuous of the self-publishing fraternity. Publishing is a business and there are simply two different business models here.

The big (traditional) publishers are operating with a very well established but inflexible business model that relies heavily of bringing out as many books as possible so that they obtain volume-based market share. Their competitive advantage is their professionalism, their financial clout, and their access to the book-retailing sector combined with their extensive market intelligence. Their competitive disadvantages are their incredibly slow product development cycle (the time it takes to bring a new book to market) and their very poor product acquisition strategies (how they actually find new authors/books that will give them market share or the greatest publicity).

The small publishers (and that is what self-publishers are) have a more flexible business model that focuses on niche market opportunities but they also have different competitive advantages and disadvantages. Their competitive advantages include low costs, the ability to bring a product to market very quickly, and the fact that their business model allows them to establish new and different ways of finding new authors or books to publish and new and different ways of marketing. Their disadvantages are that they usually lack financial strength, lack significant access to the retailing side of the book trade combined with limited market intelligence, and some lack in-house professional competencies in editing, designing and marketing books.

The two models are at either end of the spectrum – neither is better than the other as they are differentiated by doing different things, or doing the same things in different ways.

Looking at this as an author (three best-selling management books published by Piatkus Books – part of Little, Brown), I really appreciated the support and professionalism of the Piatkus team when they brought out my books. At the time, I simply did not have the experience or the time to consider publishing my own books. Now, nearly fifteen years on, I can say that I do have the professionalism, knowledge and ability to publish my own books – if that is what I need to do. I have set up White & MacLean Publishing to publish and provide partnership publishing in the fields of fantasy fiction, thrillers, management/business, social sciences and history. I certainly write in the thriller and management fields but the editorial decisions on whether we will publish my books will depend on quality.

So how do we decide what to publish? Well, I work as a professional editor in the fields of business and management, social sciences and history; the MacLean of the company title (my wife) is a professional editor in the social sciences field – a huge category that includes, for her, conflict resolution, gender issues, security (food and fuel), economics, and politics. And we have a partner who is a top fiction editor. So, White & MacLean make their editorial decisions based on in-house experience and competencies. We sub-contract to trusted outsiders that which we cannot do in-house, and we are constantly developing new and different ways of approaching the market.

But does this mean I am also a ‘self-publishing’ author? I leave that up to others to decide – I don’t see it that way as I don’t see ‘self-publishing’ as anything other than a different route to market.

The success or failure of those authors who decide to publish their own work will depend on whether they can establish a competitive advantage by doing so – by being more professional, or less expensive, quicker in bringing books to market or being a niche player. However, they also need to think through whether they are competent, capable and have sufficient business acumen to do the job properly – if they have, then they should succeed but if they don’t, then they will fail. To self-publish (or take any other route to market) should be a business decision not an emotional or emotive one.

The issue is not whether ‘self-publishing’ should or should not be a business option but whether or not the author has the sense to understand that that their manuscript/book is simply one more product in the market – very few of us are likely to produce a work of such outstanding brilliance that it will leap off the shelves of its own volition and make us millions – unfortunately, an awful lot of authors simply don’t understand that. Self-publishing rubbish is self-defeating but there again, traditionally publishing rubbish is equally self-defeating. Indeed, rubbish is rubbish no matter who writes it or publishes it.

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