The Role of Print In Independent Publishing

WILDOne of the things I really enjoy about being an indie author and editor who works with a lot of other indie authors is being able to share my experiences and knowledge about the biz with others. Case in point is something that occurred the other day. An old kayaking buddy of mine has written the first in a series of science fiction novels and wasn’t fully sold on which direction he wanted to take them: indie or traditional. We got on Skype and chatted about the gamut of things one needs to know and consider when making this decision, and he asked a question that tickled me pink on several levels. To paraphrase, he wanted to know if an author had more credibility to potential readers if they publish via print format, either in lieu of or along with an ebook.

The question caught me completely off guard. Can you guess why?

That’s right. Most of us have been book nerds for long enough now that we remember the days before ebooks when independent authors were (considered) the guileless, or worse, narcissistic, writer wannabes who used vanity press and print-on-demand services to publish their books. They were frowned upon and condescended because it was assumed that anyone who couldn’t get an agent or sell their books directly to a publishing house was simply not a good writer. And when they sidestepped the traditional route and printed their books on their own, they were considered delusional and even insufferable ego trippers.

We’ve come so far, you know? The thousands upon thousands of talents who are now self-publishing are often no different than those early vanity/POD indies (in that many of us are actually quite good writers, just not easy fits into traditional publishing’s mold). A few things have changed, true, such as the advent of ebooks, but the spirit of creativity and talent and skill that make a good writer has been among us all along, and now there is nothing to hold it back. The big picture has flipped, and having your books in print is no longer the route of the delusional but just another of the smart business practices of independent authorpeneurs.

Most of the indies I know have achieved their success through publishing ebooks, but that doesn’t mean print books haven’t also contributed. So, back to my friend’s question: Do indie authors with print books also available seem more credible to your average reader? My gut says no, but I don’t know of any studies or anecdotal evidence to support this idea. When ebooks exploded, print quickly became a distant consideration that had little to do with most indies’ rise to the top. The idea many of us had was to test the waters to see if there was a market for our books through the ebook channel, and if so, printing them became the next consideration. When I did my research, the overwhelming buzz from other indies I talked with who had achieved any success was that print books were still mostly just a fun thing to have but weren’t their main income channel by a long shot. You could extrapolate that to mean that readers aren’t even the tiniest bit concerned with/or interested in print books (enough to make them profitable), but again, I just don’t know.

So I want to throw it out to you all. What do you think? Now that indie publishing is a meaningful and permanent part of the overall publishing paradigm, and readers flock to us with nearly the same enthusiasm that was once only reserved for traditionally published novelists, do our major markets (readers) care about print books? Does it makes us seem more professional or credible if we have them? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2014 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved.

4 Replies to “The Role of Print In Independent Publishing”

  1. Phillip McCollum

    Much depends on genre and reader demographics, I think. If you’re looking at youth-oriented genres (sci-fi, horror) vs. those with older audiences (historical fiction, regency romance, suspense, non-fiction), the way you play the game changes.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the effect flipped five or so years into the future though. People like Hugh Howey may end up selling more print books because of his ebook-publishing popularity.

    1. Tammy Salyer Post author

      Very true, Phillip. Our market is a shifting sandbeast, for sure. The real fun is trying to figure out what will usurp ebooks (if not the embedded brain chip, which is already almost cliche).

  2. Dylan Hearn

    Great post, Tammy. When I published Second Chance I was keen to have a print version, not because I was worried about perceived credibility, but purely because I wanted a copy on my shelf.
    I have no idea whether having a paperback version adds credibility in the eyes of potential readers. What I do know is that my ebook sales far outstrip my paper book sales. Probably the main reason for this is that to the vast majority of our readers we are unknown. They may have read a review, had a recommendation or even just liked the cover, but we are still unknown, and it’s a much easier decision to take a chance on an ebook at $4.99 (or less) than it is to buy a paperback at $13.99. If the book purchased was the first part in a series, it’s more likely the reader will then purchase the rest of the series in the same format.
    The only time I saw a change in attitude once my paperback became available was with a number of close friends. It’s one thing to tell people you’ve written a book, another to see it for sale as an ebook on Amazon, but for some reason it’s only when they hold a paperback in their hand that some people believe you actually did it.

    1. Tammy Salyer Post author

      Dylan, you nailed it, and that’s what I’ve been leaning toward thinking too, i.e., readers are more willing to risk less than $5 on a new author, but not more. Also, new authors’ books are a consumable, whereas people tend to enjoy keeping paper- and hardbacks as “status” items. The funny thing is, I never even considered going into print until my partner demanded a book for the same reasons you and your tribe wanted one, to have something tangible to put on the shelf and proclaim, “Behold! I have (she has) BOOKED.” 🙂