Is self-publishing a bubble?

The dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, sending the economy into a recession. The housing bubble burst in the late 2000s, crippling the U.S. economy. Is self-publishing a bubble? Could it burst? And if so, what effect would it have on the publishing market? These are the questions that have been getting a lot of attention as self-publishing continues to expand in popularity, reaching all-time highs in both books being published and sold.

Obviously a decline in sales wouldn’t create a ripple-effect across other markets like the dot-com and housing bubbles, but the very idea of a “bubble” is being called into question. Industry professional Nathan Bransford declared on his blog, “We’re not in a bubble. This is not a temporary blip.” Just because an industry is seeing record production, doesn’t mean that the upward pattern of production can’t continue.

For starters, authors wrote novels without any kind of insured distribution or compensation well-before self-publishing became so easy. As Nathan Ihara put it on the Melville House blog, “I don’t believe the self-published authors will ever stop writing and publishing their books. These people didn’t start writing because they thought there was money in it.”

The rise in popularity of self-publishing is twofold. Authors look to turn their passion into a lucrative endeavor, but they also write because they are writers. A writer wouldn’t stop writing just because a substantial profit might be difficult to obtain (it takes marketing skills, good networking, the ability to find a market, and sometimes, just plain luck). But with self-publishing, a writer has more of an opportunity than ever to turn their work into something that can help them afford the time and effort to keep writing.

Yes, some writers will look at the slow sales of their brilliant novel and be discouraged. They might never write again. But others will recognize that self-publishing takes a lot more work than simply typing a manuscript. Those that realize this will keep the industry robust and growing. Those that don’t won’t burst a bubble, because there isn’t one.

Put succinctly by Bransford, “Get used to the self-publishing boom. We’re just getting started.”

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  1. I found this article most interesting. I have published non-fiction and fiction books on Lulu since 2006 and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I quite agree that typing the manuscript is only the beginning of the writing process. A great deal of self-editing and self-criticism must follow if the book is to have any chance of success.

  2. I didn’t start self-publishing with Lulu until last year (2011) and had no idea there was any kind of slump: I’d self published in the past (magazines, books of poetry) in the old school small press method that involves running down to Office Depot: Lulu is easier to use and more cost effective, and for someone like myself with a graphic design background, templates can be customized to create a unique product. Since I mostly order my own books and take them to local bookstores or sell them out of my trunk, I’m not sure this slump would affect me. I’ve got about 100 readers now, which is not a ton, but it’s very satisfying. You do have to do your own marketing, I find.

  3. I think traditional publishers will reverse themselves and look to picking up new authors from among those who have self-published, in order to keep afloat. I enjoy having 100% control over my content, but I’d be interested in procuring the advice and assistance of the experts in the field, without large expenditures of my own limited funds.

  4. The implication here is that we can’t be in a bubble if the underlying phenomenon isn’t going away. This is wrong.

    There are plenty of examples to choose from. When a real estate bubble collapses, the underlying land and buildings don’t disappear. They just get devalued to reflect their actual importance within the economy.

    When the dot com crash hit, wiping out trillions in paper wealth, the Internet didn’t disappear. Society as a whole didn’t stop writing web apps, the tools that made the rise possible (programming languages, web standards, web server programs, etc.) didn’t go anywhere. The hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber that was put down in anticipation of a sharp spike in web traffic didn’t dig itself back up, and in fact came in handy once everyone got a Netflix account.

    Nathan Bransford even mentions a recent bubble: the blogging bubble. Blogging didn’t disappear. It just got its hype stolen by the social media trend. A lot of people stopped blogging, as their blog-ish activity moved to Facebook. But blogs still remain a vital part of our Internet cultural life.

    The only evidence presented against the idea that we’re in a bubble is that the underlying trend is not illusory. But even in the 17th century, there was a legitimate underlying demand for tulip bulbs.

    Even if this is a bubble that’s destined to crash, we can still come out on top. As long as a few of the players in this space survive the crash and keep their sites running, self-publishers will continue to have powerful tools for making their creative works available to the public. I wish Lulu the best.

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    The data in the DRAM is very sensitive and cannot experience a loss in power.

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