Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, has been a leading voice and mover as e-books and self-publishing have transformed book publishing. In this slideshow, Coker compares the revolution among authors to the revolution in Egypt, illustrates his case well, and scores some usual and unusual points to make his case. It’s 21 slides, some of the text is small — and it’s worth a look.

Also worth reading on the same topic is an article urging publishers to wake up and smell the disruption, and a note that the iBookstore has sold 100 million e-books since its launch last year.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


5 Thoughts on "Authors — Only One Reason Why the Revolution in Book Publishing Continues"

Technology is not just stuff; it is how we use stuff, so technological revolutions are always social revolutions, with all that entails. (I first described this in my 1973 paper “The Structure of Technological Revolutions.) This was actually Marx’s most important point. Communism aside, Marx was the first major philosopher of technology.

People who want to know where the e-revolution is going, and how fast, need to study the social structures the stuff is embedded in, many of which are not well understood. Scientific communication for example.

I think there is a lot of truth to this, but like all generalizations, it overreaches because what is claimed here does not apply to all publishers in all sectors. E.g., as long as the promotion and tenure system in academe remains unchanged, faculty will need to publish with “prestige” university presses in order to advance in their careers.

Regarding David’s comment, I entirely agree about Marx. Indeed, I began my 2007 AAUP presidential address by quoting a salient passage from Marx: I followed this with the comment: “What strikes me about this quote is how uncannily it seems to portray the situation in which we exist today in scholarly publishing, with the legal regime of copyright as a form of private ‘property’ under widespread attack as imposing ‘fetters’ on the further development of the ‘forces of production’ unleashed by the Internet, which is heralded by many as ushering in a new ‘period of social revolution’ manifested most recently by the advent of the Web 2.0 generation and its practices of communitarian collectivity. The authors of a new book titled Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2006) put it this way: ‘Leaders must think differently about how to compete and be profitable, and embrace a new art and science of collaboration we call wikinomics. This is more than open source, social networking, so-called crowdsourcing, smart mobs, crowd wisdom or other ideas that touch upon the subject. Rather, we are talking about deep changes in the structure and modus operandi of the corporation and our economy, based on competitive principles such as openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally.’ In Marxian thought, technological advance is seen as the engine of economic change, and the Internet is a prime example of a ‘force of production’ setting in motion a revolution in the ‘relations of production’.”

Wow, what a cynical presentation! I am amazed that anyone would promote their company by comparing it to a revolt against the Egyptian dictatorship where many people have lost their lives, and a struggling for some sort of personal freedom.

Authors have always had the choice to self-publish and try to get their book noticed. I am also fairly sure that publishers haven’t imprisoned or tortured any authors who wanted to publish a book themselves! The comparison with a revolt against dictatorship is both inaccurate and in very poor taste.

I do find the whole celebrity book emphasis extremely annoying. Just investigate who owns the publisher and you’ll get some insight into why that’s going on.

But the self-pub world has its own problems. Have you seen what comes in to publishers off the street? I have. There are lots of delusional people out there who think they can write. And now they can self-pub at little or no cost. I doubt much of what is on Smashwords is worth reading. But I’m just as sure there are some gems there, too. The difficulty is telling the difference before you buy.

With the exception of a few like Harlequin, publishers made a mistake by allowing authors to become the brand instead of themselves. Publishers and their editors add a tremendous amount to the success of any title. I think branding practices will change, and readers will start to pay attention to who published and/or edited a particular book, whether printed or otherwise.

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