Lessons Learned

Venue of the London Book Fair -huge hall with hundreds of attendees and booths, a lady reading a book and another lady smiling

The London Book Fair (March 15, 2017) hosted a panel discussion for scholars and publishers to get down to the nitty-gritty of self-publishing. It seems that the old arguments about the shift in cost to the author and the lack of editorial input to sort out the wheat from the chaff still blight the ePublishing world.

Panelist Nigel Lee, CEO of a scholarly self-publishing platform, commented that: “One of the biggest challenges for academics is often finding a publisher at all.” He noted that ePublishing was a way to help scholars get their work into the public domain without the time constraints of approaching publishing houses to make this happen, followed by the unnerving feeling of handing over control of your work to others. One survey found that three quarters of respondents wanted more control of the publication process and two thirds voiced an obvious desire to earn more from the publication of their work.  So is the ePublishing model the answer?

By virtue of it being ePublishing, the authors do have complete control of the process – something that the panel felt many hadn’t grasped the full implications of. The panel discussed the fact that the authors need to start to think of themselves more as consumers to take full advantage of the opportunities. By that, they mean that authors need to understand the consumer market and tailor their work accordingly if they want to maximize its potential.

Then there’s the issue of cost. The self-publishing model predominantly shifts the costs from the consumer to the author. Though as ePublisher and panelist Daniel Berze was keen to point out, the traditional publishing model is not without its own cost implications. “There are the high costs of book processing charges, which opens up content to readers while simultaneously closing it off to those authors unable to afford such costs. Self-publishing offers a lower-cost alternative.” In addition, Berze gave the example of a textbook author whose revenues had quadrupled when he set his own price at US$65 rather than the US$400 price set by his original publisher.

So, as a relatively low-cost alternative that offers complete control of the work and its pricing, ePublishing seems the obvious choice for scholars, especially if they know their audience. “The benefits are complete control and the ability to take full benefit of the financial returns,” said Lee.

Panelist and publishing manager for the Royal Armouries Museum, Martyn Lawrence however, was less evangelical about the merits of self-publishing. Without an ePublishing platform to promote, his was an academic’s perspective on the fact that low royalties in academic publishing mean it will never make the authors the kind of figures enjoyed by those on the bestseller lists. In addition, he felt that smaller, Open Access university presses would really start to lose out if more scholars moved their business to the ePublishing model and that standards would inevitably slip.

ePublishing itself, is often viewed as a way for the unpublishable to become published and that without skilled editorial intervention, the quality of the work is often diminished. Panelist Rebecca Evans, head of innovation at Emerald Publishing and head of writing support company Prolifiko, pointed out that in much the same way, the one-man-band approach of ePublishing leaves authors unsupported. Authors have no knowledge of or experience in the publishing business so aren’t best placed to make the best decisions for their publications. “Many academics tend to stick with what they know when making publishing decisions, even when faced with compelling counter-arguments and innovative solutions that might be considered to be fundamentally better.” In the desire for full autonomy it seems the authors are biting off more than they can chew.

While the panel was unable to agree if the editorial, business and marketing support of the traditional publishing model was better for scholars that the full-control ePublishing model, the discussion concluded that it did provide authors with other options.  After all, as Evans’ commented, “Putting authors and their needs at the heart of what you do is what publishing is all about.”

If you would like to explore ePublishing possibilities, then get in touch with Amnet today.