Are e-book publishers repeating the mistakes of the music industry?

One of the biggest threats to the music industry has been pirating songs and cheating artists out of royalties. When publishers began digitalising novels, e-book piracy was a concern all parties involved had to consider. Although, piracy is not a novel concept; centuries ago, publishers used to spread censored texts on paper and ink, cameras were brought into cinemas and people used to record songs that played on the radio on tapes. Our parents might have fallen into that latter category.

While the music industry focused on attempting to install DRM (Digital Rights Management) software to prevent people from accessing content they didn’t purchase, pirates found their way around it. As sharing media digitally is the easiest solution, I’m asking the question of pricing, the impact of self-publishing on the industry and what actions the book publishers could take to solve the situation.

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What’s the impact on the music industry over illegal downloads?

As music started being shared digitally, companies implemented DRM into the code ‘that prevents copying’ as ‘a systematic approach to copyright protection for digital media’. Doctorow describes the problem in DRM is that all ‘systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher, and the key. At this point the secret isn’t a secret anymore.’ Because of this, users did not have to be that technically sophisticated to obtain illegal copies of the music or movies you were looking for. People just wanted the music they liked quickly and easily, the fact that they didn’t have to pay for it was an added bonus.

Napster was developed as a way for a group of friends to share music like people used to exchange records and CDs. The difference is that Napster exploded to encompass people from all over the world and that meant the creators of any content that could be shared online suffered by losing out on the royalties. Although, when Apple came out with iTunes music store with millions of DRM-free songs for under £1 each, it did not address the issue. Apple added a code to prevent users from accessing the songs from more than 5 different computers. So, it was easier to buy high-quality tracks for low prices, but if you changed devices often, you couldn’t access your media. That meant that people still preferred to pirate the music instead of risking paying for something they might lose.

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Many producers in the industry tried to crack down on music piracy, but with it being an ever-evolving hydra, it’s been impossible to stop completely. Despite having a huge negative impact on the industry, music makes up only 2.9% of everything pirated on the internet. It gives off the impression that no matter how hard the industry works to make sure the content people create is compensated; someone will always find a way to get it for free.

Is pricing the problem?

Some of the blame for causing the problem can be put on the pricing of e-books, as the price tag can be just as much as a physical copy of the book. Studies have shown that 70% of 18-29 year olds pirate media and a factor in so many students pirating is the cost. If their income is lower, they are more likely to look for free, illegal alternatives to accesing the content they want or need.

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Google put out a report in 2013 called “How Google Fights Piracy” and it spoke out against using DMRs. ‘The right combination of price, convenience and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.’ This should encourage publishers to design more innovative and accessible services that are better value for the customer. There are services out there like Netflix and Spotify for books, such as Scribd and Oyster. However, because of different copyrights across the globe, they face the same issue as Netflix: it can’t offer the same content everywhere. Another issue McElhearn described with Scribd was that most of the library of books offered was self-published content from ‘authors looking for readers’, as ‘a lot of Scribd content is “documents,” such as catalogs (seriously), court filings, instruction manuals, and more.

The content unavailable is an issue with Scribd as readers might not be getting what they paid for could be off-putting for avid readers with tighter purse-strings looking for an alternative to pirating. But the subscription model for books could be useful in the future, but it would prove as advantage to readers who read quickly, as opposed to readers who take longer to finish each book. It would depend on whether a user would be willing to pay $8.99 a month to read 2 books or 6 books.

Is free the answer?

Coelho said that readers of his novels are ‘welcome to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy – the way we have to tell to the industry that greed leads to nowhere.’ His readers agreed; one reader said ‘You sir are right, by downloading your books I was determined to buy the hard copy! If I wasn’t a pirate I never would read your books! I consider it a preview, if you like it, buy it!’ If this was a model the whole industry could get behind, and use one platform to do so, it might be effective.

Of course, there will always be those against giving out creative content for free, even writers using sites like Wattpad, Kindle World, and Figment. Not to mention social media sites like Tumblr and Fanfiction, where writers can’t sell their content for fear of infringing copyright. These authors are most likely looking for a platform to share something they’re passionate about. However, writers have also bagged publishing contracts based on the popularity of a book they self-published, E.L. James with 50 Shades of Grey being the most well-known example.

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The rise of self-publishing (and how it’s affecting the market).

Many people have taken advantage of the new technologies to tell their stories and earn money by selling them online. Amazon Marketplace has self-publishing options in both e-book format and hard copy. However these self-published books haven’t been professionally edited or formatted and they are priced at less than £2 each. In the US, 235,625 print and electronic titles are released each year . The self-published books have a lower production cost, as the author is doing all the editing, cover design, marketing etc. as opposed to professional publishing houses that have a team of people dedicated to each novel they produce. This means that the independent authors can publish several books quicker, rather than publishers only being able to put out one or a maximum of two a year.

Over 25% of writers self-publish and they typically get their investment back, plus 40%. 86% of those who self-published said they would do it again. Flood  wrote that ‘Traditional publishing is no longer fair or sustainable’. Being published by a traditional in-house publishing company is no longer the only way to be successful in publishing.  The low cost, quick turnover and satisfactory content doesn’t devalue the professionally edited and formatted editions that come out of publishing houses. It does mean that self-publishers often have the same skills as a team in a publishing house and publishers must work that much hard to prove that traditional publishing is still the ‘better’ option.

However, Solomon argues that ‘publishers are doing less for what they get’ and ‘with ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share… Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings.’ This could also be interpreted as an advantage to self-publishing: the author would simply get more of the profit for the work they actually do. This can also be linked back to being noticed as a writer. If you are a big-name author, your work will be pirated. But if you are less well-known, choose to self-publish and put a low price on it, people are more likely to buy your product than pirate it.

What is the book industry doing about it?

While E-book piracy is only 0.2% of everything that is being pirated online, it is still significant in the book publishing market. 4 out of 5 publishers are now producing e-books. Publishers don’t concern themselves with the circulation of one copy between ‘a small circle of friends or acquaintances’ rather than ‘collecting orders’ that could later ‘amount to issue to the public’. It is not a big enough threat to the industry if you share it around with a small circle of friends for publishers to take serious action. Whereas sharing a download link on forums that anyone can access freely are cutting publishers’ profits.

What’s likely to happen next?

It doesn’t look likely that books will drop down to being free downloads, however, they might drop in price to one set price. Many publishers are looking adding more value to the products they sell. For example, 31% of e-book publishers are producing enhanced e-books. Others are looking into bundling, selling several books at once, such as a box set of a series or the same book but in different formats (hard copy, e-book, audiobook). It’s like the middle ground in the print vs. online debate: how about all three? The industry could go in many different directions with their approach to e-book piracy, but I think they have taken note from the music industry.


The Future of eBooks


When eBooks first started to appear in the mid 90s, they were ‘hailed by many as the next great technological step for books.’ Has this remained true after these many years? It’s been said that print is still the preferred way people like to read and that eBook sales are not as big as people predicted, however there are multiple reasons for why this is and what can be done about it.


While many of us have seen the growth in eBooks, sales have recently been slowing down. In 2011, Alastair Horne said only 6% of the market consisted of eBooks in the UK and 6.4% in America. Most have said this is to do with pricing because it’s hard ‘getting the public to

Amazon Kindle Logo. Credited to Amazon.

accept sensible pricing.’ It certainly doesn’t help that online retailers such as Amazon discount the prices on books, to the point that buyers might get used to that price and think all eBooks should cost that much. Amazon also creates deals, such as the first book of the series being free to increase sales at the expense of the pricing. Recently, Amazon was doing a deal for Laini Taylor’s trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which for a limited time only all of the eBooks would be on sale for £0.99. Many people, including myself, logged in to Amazon and got it.

In 2010, Amazon was in a war with Apple and five other publishers to dominate the eBook market. Before Apple launched its iBooks store for eBooks, Amazon Kindle was the main platform and so they had the freedom to set the prices themselves (a maximum of $9.99), however, when Apple finally opened its online store it caused a few problems. Five big publishers, such as Penguin and HarperCollins, created a contract with Apple that would only allow the publishers to set the price of the eBook and Apple would get a certain percentage of each sale. Every time another retailer would drop down their prices, i.e. Amazon, the publishers would drop Apple’s eBook prices too so as to compete with Amazon. These five publishers then got Amazon to agree to a similar deal, consequently

iBooks Store Logo. Credited to Apple

raising eBook prices to ‘needlessly high,’ (levels) as said by Amazon. But the five publishers and Apple both lost when the US Department of Justice charged them all with collusion and so eBooks prices are now back at what they started.


For many years, after self-publishing was first introduced, it developed a stigma and it effected self-published authors greatly. This was because without the help of publishers most of the books were badly edited, badly written and had bad cover design, and readers didn’t like this. For example, Adrienne Woods’ book series, Dragonian, is full of foreshadowing, which an editor would have noticed and advised to change, and which many people have complained about, but it seems this stigma has, for the most part, disappeared.

Though this stigma seems to have vanished, not many self-published authors actually do well. It’s been said that only about 40 indie authors are successful, though impressively some of them, like Amanda Hocking, have been in the top 10 in the Kindle Million Club and some have even been picked up for real publishing contracts.

Some self-published books are very good, but it still seems that it’s the bad ones people keep buying. For example, the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James started simply from a fanfiction about Twilight but then the author self-published it where it got massively popular, until finally a publisher picked it up. I believe this might have been because James already had a dedicated fandom who would continue to buy the book(s). Bad books becoming really popular might be the reason behind the stigma of self-publishing and it could be helped by the good self-published eBooks out there.

Self-published eBooks have gone up in price, whereas before they were £0.99 some have

February 2014 – January 2016 Ebook Unit Sales. Credited to AuthorEarnings, 2016.

gone up to £2.99 and Adrienne Woods’ books are nearly £4.This is most likely because of the increase of self-publishing over the years. Between February 2014 and February 2016, self-published eBooks have increased approximately by 16% and the sales for the big five

publishers have decreased by 12%. On Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling eBooks more than half, 56 to be exact, were self-published. This data clearly suggests that more and more people are buying self-published books, perhaps because they are cheaper.

E-book Piracy

Although eBooks prices are becoming cheaper, many people still believe eBooks should be free and some believe it so much that they turn to piracy. In every eBook, there is a copyright page, most of them at the back, that clearly states one cannot copy and/or distribute the eBook though many people claim to not know this law. But is it harming the industry? It’s been reported that only 1% of 12-year-olds and older were reading e-books illegally in the UK in March to May 2015. Therefore, many people believe that piracy of eBooks won’t ever become a big thing because readers will always prefer ‘legal services over illegal ones.’

Subscriptions Programmes

So, what can we do to prevent eBook piracy and increase eBook sales? There are ways of still reading very cheap eBooks without it being illegal. Project Gutenberg is a free online library with more than 53,000 books to choose from and download, with the option for a not needed, but appreciated, small donation to keep them going. It is a great example of a project which is free and is still going, though some have not been so lucky. Oyster books was an online streaming service for eBooks and was named the ‘netflix for eBooks.’ Its users would pay roughly £10 a month to read as many books as they’d like. Sadly, only two years after it started it shut down. Many have said this is because it was ‘deeply flawed’ because of its lack of bestsellers in the library and because it only managed to grab 5 big publishers, which caused problems when people wanted to get a book from another publisher. Others which seem to have worked are Kindle Unlimited and Bookmate, all very similar but none have done particularly well. So, does ‘netflix for eBooks’ really work? For now, it seems not, however publishers should learn from the ones who haven’t worked and try and make it better.

What can publishers do?

There are many ways of increasing eBook sales and there are already some projects for this that are sort of working. For example, Amazon has two different options to buy their kindles, the ‘with special offers’ which is cheaper and the ‘without special offers,’ which is about £10 more expensive. What many people don’t realise is the only reason the ‘with

Screenshot from Kindle’s Buying Options in the Amazon Website.

special offers’ option is cheaper is because the buyer is agreeing to be bombarded with adverts during their reading. Despite this, the satisfaction rate of these kindles is still great with four stars.

Another thing publishers could do is to create bundles and deals that have both print and eBooks and charge it a little bit more. I believe this would work because many people like to have both versions, myself included, and because like Katherine Hayles said,

‘digital and physical copies rely on one another.’

Amazon already does this by what they call Kindle Matchbook in which if someone has bought a physical book then the consumer can buy the e-book version for $2.99 or less, though sadly it has not been applied to the Amazon UK yet.

What is the Future of eBooks?

The future of eBooks seems to clearly point that they won’t ever be free because there are still people willing to pay for them, and there are many different, creative ways to increase the sales, like kindle unlimited and such. I predict that though the way we consume eBooks won’t change, I believe publishers will join together and come up with a platform that works well for them all and that maybe this will be a really good version of ‘netflix for eBooks.’


Digital Publishing: Authors utopia or nightmare?

 Today, an average of 41.8 million people use the internet on a daily basis creating a new world of publishing. Digital publishing has undeniably, democratised the industry, creating opportunity for new, previously rejected, authors. However, is it truly a utopia for authors? Or has it, in fact, made the industry more challenging than ever?

Total Control

Digital publishing has opened up the ability for authors to self-publish. Technological advances have ‘levelled the playing field to an unprecedented degree’ for authors. Self-publishing has allowed authors to take total control over their work, something that was simply not possible with traditional publishing.

Editing platforms such as CreateSpace and Ingram Spark have enabled authors complete authority, allowing them to freely edit without restriction. For example, CreateSpace has effectively eliminated the need for publishing houses as ‘CreateSpace authors and publishers will earn industry-leading royalties on each sale while continuing to own the rights and have creative control over their work.’ Authors can now have control over what happens to their work, how it is published, and where.

These self-publishing platforms, coupled with print-on-demand technology, allow authors to upload their work and then publish it straight to online storefronts like Amazon. It has enabled ‘indie authors–as well as the smallest boutique publishers and micropresses–[to] sell their books through the same online retail storefronts that today account for roughly 50% of total US print sales.’ Works from Faber&Faber are sold alongside self-published works giving authors an equal opportunity and access to a larger audience. This technology has opened the door to independent authors who traditionally would not have been able to afford upfront printing costs.

At what cost?

However, although this technology has allowed more authors the opportunity to have their work seen, it is difficult for self-published authors to make a significant amount of money. Amazon offer 70% royalties to their authors, which appears a good rate but getting your eBook to sell in large quantities is very difficult. EBooks are sold for a fraction of the cost of print books and so need a higher turnover to break even. A survey of 1,007 authors found that ‘less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.’


The few authors that do make a reasonable outcome tend to have large outgoings, many of the books that have succeeded in the market have been edited and designed by professionals. Book cover designs can cost anywhere between £100-£1000 and copy editors usual charge around £26.50 per hour. Even the platforms designed for self-publishing can be costly with ‘Lulu [charging] about $500, Createspace about $700.’ Self-publishing is usually marketed as free but many authors end up paying out to ensure their work is of good quality, so either way self-publishing can be costly for many authors.


Although it can be costlier, digital publishing has allowed opportunity for content that may have previously been refused. Self-publishing has allowed experimental genres, such as Fan Fiction, to be explored and it is these genres that are proving the most popular ‘56 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks… were self-published indie titles.’ According to AuthorEarning ‘self-published indie Science Fiction books, indie Thrillers, indie Suspense novels, indie Urban Fiction, and even Cozy Mysteries by indies’ are amongst the top selling eBooks, showing the ever growing market and scope for new authors to be successful in.

AuthorEarnings February 2016 report showing the popularity of indie published books.

Amanda Hocking is a great example of seizing this new market, at the beginning of 2010 she was an unknown, paranormal fiction writer with seventeen unpublished novels. Yet, by the end of 2010 she would have four recognisable novels and have sold 1.5m books, making $2.5m. Uploading her novels onto Amazon and Smashwords has made her a household name and even secured her a press deal with St Martin’s for over $2.1 million. This is a clear indication that self-publishing has allowed authors the freedom to publish work that publishers would not accept and authors are making millions from this previously restricted content.

New Kids on the Block

Alongside new content the digital world has also created a new type of author. Commissioning editors are starting to steer away from traditional authors and are now offering book deals to young, social media stars thanks to their extreme popularity and a celebrity-like status.

Surely this is good for authors? Young stars are being given writing opportunities they may never have been offered, creating new content, and a new type of author. Books by Youtubers have flooded the market, 5 out of the 10 books in BookScan’s Autobiography: The Arts category are by YouTubers and GoodReads even has a top 100 Books by Youtubers section.

However, this is creating a new problem for authors hoping to become noticed. Financial pressure from the market is causing publishers to pick content guaranteed to sell and ‘if the publishers’ budgets are being sunk into luring already-prominent names, there will inevitably be a horde of brilliant unknowns, tapping away at their keyboards, forever unheard.’

Youtubers are being picked by commissioning editors thanks to their huge online presence which transcends across social media and the internet giving the most popular, like Zoella, an avid following of about 5.8 million. Controversies such as Zoe Sugg’s ghost writer scandal, demonstrates the pressure publishers are feeling. As Sugg’s ghost-writer points out ‘whether you like it or not, this is the financial reality of today’s publishing industry.’

Publishers are picking content based on popularity, and it is selling well, which leaves authors with a market that’s even more difficult to be noticed in.


The good news for these “horde of brilliant unknowns” is that there is no reason why new authors cannot create their own audience just as Youtubers have. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all free marketing tools that can generate great interest and hype for authors and their work. Hashtagging and interacting with fans builds a following behind these authors and creates an often small but loyal market for their novels.

Mark Dawson is a prime example of using marketing to its full potential as he admitted ‘in order to be successful at this, you need to take off your artist hat and put on your marketing hat.’ Dawson has used social media to its full advantage, using it to build a rapport with his audience. He has created, much like the Youtubers, a loyal and secure audience and it has worked with Amazon paying him in excess of $450,000 a year. If authors can embrace the digital world and take full advantage of it, as a marketing platform, they can become successful and most importantly noticed.


Lost at Sea

Unfortunately, success stories such as Dawson’s are not in the majority. Amazon’s Kindle claims to have 105,688 new releases in the last 30 days and 1,412,329 books now available Kindle unlimited. This huge volume of work means it can be all too easy for authors work to be lost in the market. In 2016, only ‘40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon,’ a worryingly low number for a market so large. Even if authors are using social media to create a brand there is still a high chance they will become lost in the market and make little income.

Likewise, authors who choose to self-publish often find themselves isolated from the industry and there is often elitism among publishers against self-publishing. Andrew Franklin, the managing director of Profile Books famously said at the Writing in the Digital Age conference that ‘the overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible – unutterable rubbish.’

 Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold.  But this is demonstrably untrue. –David Vinjamuri 

Many publishers in the industry share this view, making it difficult for authors to have their work recognised. Online success is often ignored in reality as ‘self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker,’ which excludes a huge number of authors and their work from getting the recognition they deserve. Author Talli Rolland explains ‘I found it difficult to get my printed novel into bookstores, despite solid e-book sales figures.’ This highlights the difficulty many authors face when trying to get noticed in the industry and it’s a constant struggle to get self-publishing acknowledge as a viable medium.

So which is it? Utopia or dystopia? 

It is undeniable that the world of digital publishing has created new opportunities for authors. The internet has allowed authors control over every process of their work from the editing all the way up to marketing and there are success stories. It has created a more democratic system, one which has room for all authors and every type of content.

However, success in digital publishing comes at a price, the industry is more competitive than ever and equal opportunity for all means the market is continuously growing, making it increasingly difficult to become noticed. Is it a utopia? Certainly not. But, if authors are willing to work hard and embrace the new, interactive, fast paced world of digital publishing there is, at least, the chance for them to become the next Fifty Shades of Grey.


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Do We Need Editors Anymore?

The age of the traditional editor is over, and has been for some time. The birth of the web provided new digital platforms that allow authors to publish themselves without the middle man. Over the last ten years, the change in the economics of publishing has shifted the responsibilities of a key role in the industry. From the breaking of the netbook agreement in the 1990s to the rise of Amazon selling both print and eBooks on the cheap, questions of the value of the written word have coincided with whether a traditional editor needs to be employed by publishers. Enter the market of self-published titles on digital shelves and the gatekeepers in their ivory towers look pretty precarious.

So, what’s an editor?

Is an editor one who simply uses a red pencil to whip a manuscript into shape, or a project manager monitoring cash flow and markets?

A podcast from Guardian Books, The Art of Editing barely scrapes the surface of an editor’s job in today’s digital world. Taking us from the mid-19th century to the present day, it discusses how the role has shifted from talent-spotters and copyeditors to a jack-of-all-trades with an understanding of markets, budgets and schedules. Literary agent Karolina Sutton suggests that it’s the commercial drive that affects the editorial role:

‘What great publishers do is they protect that corner of the market. So, what they do is they allow editors to work on manuscripts and they give them more time, and it’s perhaps less competitive; you can develop writers over a longer period even though the financial rewards are not immediate. That being said, it was a lot easier to protect that section of the market a few years ago, than it is now.’

Traditional publishing still relies on its editors to find content, refine it and turn it into a marketable product that generates revenue. But this has evolved. In the 1950s, former editor Diana Athill thought the idea of understanding the finances of publishing was not her job saying, ‘It is sad to think that we did not appreciate the luxury of not having to ask ourselves “is it commercially viable?” in those happy days before that question set in.’

But now, the editor’s role is driving revenue, balancing the costs and potential profits of the content they develop for the business. This idea is far removed from what many believe the role still is.

Do editors hold the keys to the literary kingdom?


Becoming an editor continues to be a dream role for many. Yet the idea that editors sit in beautiful offices and read manuscripts all day couldn’t be further from the truth. Senior editor Miranda Jewess laughed: ‘I wish I could sit and read books all day. That would be perfect. I haven’t been able to do that in a long time.’ Editors now are the shapers and curators of content: part project managers, part list makers.

In addition, as new degrees begin to emerge, such as Creative Writing and Publishing, more young people are coming to the industry with publishing know-how. Publishing houses have applicants from a diverse educational background – not just the same English Literature graduates of the past – with Penguin announcing it was scrapping degree requirements altogether. This has helped shape the shift: new employees bringing creativity and marketing skills to both in print publishing and digital in a new way.

With much of the traditional gatekeeping role of the editor in shaping and editing manuscripts becoming outsourced to freelancers, is digital self-publishing part of the shift too?

The Gatecrashers

The digital age has seen the rise of self-publishing. With the development of digital platforms for writing, authors no longer need to rely on publishers to print and distribute their work now that the cost of printing books no longer needs to be part of the equation. Diana Athill explains:

‘The person with whom the writer wants to be in touch is his reader: if he could speak to him directly, without a middleman, that is what he would do.’

Vanity publishing, as it was known, has been around for a long time, with many notable authors self-publishing, including Lawrence Sterne and the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy.

Its evolution onto the digital platform starts with blogs, when authors could upload their content to their own site and get readers for free. It was also a way for authors to get instant feedback in the comments section to improve their work. This also existed within the fanfiction realm, where message boards filled with stories would (and still can) continue for years, gathering readership and support.

Next, writers were thinking of ways to monetise their work, and subscription websites emerged. This way, avid readers could sign up to an author’s website, pay a small fee each month and continue to read the story. Sites such as function as a simple way for authors to gain money from self-published work.

But it’s the eBook that saw the greatest impact from self-published authors. With the success of Amazon’s Kindle platform, it’s easier and cheaper than ever for authors to distribute their work to readers. And because Amazon’s name is an established and trusted one as retailer, the high volume of potential readers encourages writers to see opportunities for sales. This is demonstrated in a report from Author Earnings which states ‘…“non-traditionally-published” books make up 60% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US’ (figures from 2015).

But is it good enough?

Many believe that eBooks don’t provide quality content for paying readers. Author Chuck Wendig, published both traditionally and self-published, discusses the complexities of this in a (colourfully phrased) blog post that hits on some key points. He argues that by allowing the publishing of unedited (or badly edited) material in the form of an eBook, self-publishers run the risk of devaluing not only traditionally published books but their own. This is even reflected in the extremely low prices that self-published authors sell their books at.

As publishing expert Michael Bhaskar says, ‘Good content is far easier to market; indeed, it markets itself far, far better than bad.’

Outside the system

The quality of self-published books shouldn’t impact the role of the editor too heavily. Freelance editors are now available across the internet and are being used often by new writers as they begin to understand the need for quality writing.

A quick Google search shows how editors are in demand. Breaking the process down, authors can now select different editors based on requirements: a structural edit, a critique, a copyedit, a proofread, plot doctoring, etc. This idea of publishing services being ‘unbundled’  has resulted in new approaches, such as crowdfunding-style publishers Unbound, or bespoke publishing services like Whitefox. Book marketing expert Alison Baverstock says, ‘Publishing is emerging as a process…’

As well as the discussion of quality within eBooks, there is also a question of quantity and how that impacts the market. Bhaskar tweeted this from Frankfurt Book Fair:

©Michael Bhaskar


Editors as curators

Hoping to target readers in a more direct way is the idea of content curation. By carefully seeking out and publishing market-driven content, editors can ensure that well-constructed books reach readers. Curation can already be seen on the internet, with websites such as Editors can develop this into book form by embracing digital possibilities with their own knowledge and creativity.

What the digital future means

As innovations in technology continue to develop and be embraced by the entertainment industry – such as Virtual and Augmented Reality – book publishing appears to be falling behind. There are several reasons for this. Senior editor, Beth Lewis said,

They want us to develop an AR app for our books. Who’s going to code it? I don’t have time to learn. The IT department can’t do it. So who?

She went on to say how many trade publishers can’t afford to teach their staff, or hire new staff members, to be specialised in digital roles. And when it comes to imagining new digital possibilities, a recent report into the possibilities of academic digital publishing found that editors ‘lack […] involvement with, and in some cases [have a] sense of fear, of digital technology together with a distinct lack of knowledge in this area.’

But there are some positive results. The audiobook market has been increasing and there are interesting developments here, as highlighted in an essay from The Economist. Nosey Crow has an entire division based on storybook apps for children. The possibilities are out there for new editors to develop.

The development of the internet has changed the way we think of editors. Through the evolution of digital platforms for authors, the editor in both traditional and freelance terms must adapt to shifting requirements. The question of what an editor is or should be has, perhaps, become more complicated as it begins to merge with other areas, such as marketing.

And yet the need for the gatekeepers is still there. The value that editors bring to books, as well as the revenue they bring to publishers, is as important as ever in sustaining the publishing industry. As well as maintaining this quality control and curation, editors also need to look to the digital landscape as a way of bringing exciting new innovations to capture readers of the internet age.