Should Authors Leave Publishers Behind?

Douglas Rushkoff has a new book, Program or Be Programmed, out that is getting more coverage for its method of publication than the content of the book itself. Rushkoff has chosen to skip mainstream publishing and go direct. He adds himself to a growing list of authors doing the same things.

Seth Godin made waves and The Wall Street Journal in August when made a similar decision. Godin followed up a week later on his proclamation with his ShipIt Workbook, a self-published product that was only available through Amazon.

In Rushkoff’s case, he is using a publisher, OR Books, that has a very specific model: you can only buy the pbook or ebook directly from their website. This single channel distribution allowed a quick release of the book to the marketplace and eliminates the inefficiency of book distribution where books and demand always seem to have trouble finding each other.

Rushkoff wrote an extensive piece in Arthur Magazine about his decision and my friend Shelley Dolley asked what I thought.

What Rushkoff spends most of his time talking about are issues of alignment, ones that have always existed. Authors want their idea out in the marketplace when they finish writing, not a year afterwards. Authors want publicity, not the balanced efforts of a publisher pleasing a stable of authors. Authors want advocates, something often lost in the multi-year publication cycle and ever shifting careers of editors, publicists and marketeers looking move the next rung up on the ladder. These are not indictments of traditional publishing; I could just as easily write each of these points from the opposing perspective.

Most prospective authors should read Rushkoff’s piece to hear his experiences as an author and his knowledge as a media expert. And at the same time, the acts of Rushkoff and Godin are not a signal that authors should avoid traditional publishing all together. Authors have more choices than ever about how they can publish their work and they should explore all of their options. There are many instances when trading off speed for distribution makes sense for an author, especially one who is building their platform. At the same time, an author who is not blogging weekly and publishing an ebook every six to twelve months is also missing out on opportunities.

I keep telling authors the proper conjunction for our times is AND, not OR.

We’ll be talking about these exact issues at BizBookLab on December 14th and 15th, 2010 in Portland, Oregon.

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