Just as the rise of eBooks produced anxiety about the future of print books, there seems to be a pessimism about the future of the traditional publishing model, and even of publishing houses themselves, in the wake of options for authors to self-publish.

Ziyad Marar sought to justify the publishing house against the view that eventually publishing will merely become “the press of a button”, in his talk “Publishing innovation in the Age of Big Data” at London Info International. In Marar’s view, publishing is an essential “bridge” for the discovery of ideas and will innovate to address the challenge posed by ease of accessibility in the modern age.

To steel man the problem Marar addresses, we should acknowledge the growing avenues for self-publishing. Self-publishing through Amazon and the increase in services like freelance editing, show meaningful ways that authors can bypass large parts of the traditional model. On top of this, the drawbacks of self-publishing, such as the inability to create hardbacks, are falling away as Amazon introduced this feature early this year. Even a casual YouTube search can find channels such as “Mollie Reads”; a freelance editor who offers advice to writers on things such as how to self-edit their works.

This dissemination of a publishing house’s services should give us pause to realise the importance of publishing houses is not guaranteed for the future. Those of us who want a career with a publishing house, or who just like the works they produce, may well regard this as a problem.

How the industry might innovate to solve this problem was suggested in a recent Q&A by writer Don Watkins, posted on his YouTube channel. He summarised his experience with the traditional model as: “We’re not going to market your book; you have to bring us an audience. We’re not going to edit your book; you better bring us a polished product and we’re going to take 90% of the revenue…That sounds like garbage!”. If the industry has no answer to this, the obvious option for Watkins is to self-publish, which would justify the pessimistic view.

“We’ll give you a ton of editing, we’re gonna give you a ton of marketing…and you keep 50% of the revenues…that’s a way better deal!”

Don Watkins

Yet Watkins says the opposite. He has made a deal with an independent publisher (the name of which is not yet disclosed) who offered him the following: “We’ll give you a ton of editing, we’re gonna give you a ton of marketing…and you keep 50% of the revenues…that’s a way better deal!”. Watkins even claimed that a marketing strategy by his publisher was to give away 10,000 eBooks, with the aim to spread word of mouth sales. No doubt a strategy a traditional publishing house would wince at. Whether this method will work only time will tell, but the broad solution can be seen here.

The traditional model may continue to work for established writers. However, independent houses can justify their services over self-publishing, to authors like Watkins, by radically innovating on the existing model and thereby offer those writers “a way better deal”.

These exciting innovations offered by independent houses show a real way for them to be the bridge Marar speaks about. Whether we are publishers, authors or readers this is a future for the industry about which we can all be optimistic .