The history of self-publishing is older than you think. Contrary to what you may think, it did not begin in the 21st century or with the first computers.
But let’s start at the beginning, what exactly is ‘self-publishing’?
Self-publishing is the publication of a book or any other document by the author without the intervention of third parties, especially editors. However, this does not necessarily mean that the author cannot delegate certain functions to companies especially dedicated to self-publishing, such as printing, availability in online stores, purchasing the ISBN, shipping, etc.
The author who decides to self-publish his book focuses all his efforts on the self-publishing of the manuscript (layout, cover, synopsis, price, marketing…), therefore, by not delegating work to publishers, the profit margin he will obtain for his work will be much higher than that of the author who has decided to publish with a publisher.
The before – The history of self-publishing before E-books
If we stick strictly to the etymology of the words, the concept of publishing a book was not used until the invention of the printing press by the German Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. From this date, dozens of publishers and printing presses began to emerge. Before the advent of the printing press, authors simply wrote their manuscripts. In fact, they rarely, if ever, marketed them. Basically the main reason for the lack of book marketing and therefore publication was the absence of a machine capable of making copies. The only texts that were reproduced were religious texts, and this work was carried out mainly by monks.
With the appearance of the printing press and publishing houses, literary businesses increased, although very slowly due to censorship. Publishers demanded more and more quality and, given the increase in requests to publish, they began to apply quality criteria. This is how self-publishing emerged: faced with editorial rejection, writers decided to self-publish with a single intermediary: the printing press. This is how authors like Virginal Woolf emerged, who together with her husband opened a mini printing press in the living room of her house. Or Jane Austen, who, faced with editorial rejection, succeeded by selling her own self-published book. Even Mark Twain, which decided to join the world of subscription publishing and move away from the exquisite traditional publishers. In another of our blog you can find 5 recognized authors who have self-published.
Figures about the importance of self-publishing until the middle of the 20th century are quite diffuse and difficult to count due to the lack of a real self-publishing industry.
It should be noted that, apart from self-publishing via author-printing, there is also what was called Vanity Publishing in 1959. They are also called author publishing houses or Vanity Press. Its objective focuses on making the author pay for publishing with his company. The vanity publisher makes money from what the author pays the publisher and not from the books sold, but since its creation it has been seen as a mediocre option that only tries to increase the author’s ego, since it does not have quality filters like the traditional publishers. But the story of self-publishing does not end there. The authors realized the potential of this industry and began to develop it from the end of the 20th century.
Now – The history of self-publishing based on E-Readers
First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between eBook and E-Readers. While eBooks are books in digital format, E-Readers are electronic devices for reading eBooks.
The first biography writing services emerged in the last decades of the 20th century and were read through the computer. We had to wait until 1998 to find the first E-Readers. They were the Rocket eBook from the company NuvoMedia and the Soft Book from the company Soft Book Press.
But comparing them with the current E-Readers, those old devices had LED light and did not have what Sony would later call e-ink in 2006. The e-ink is an electronic ink without artificial light that the Japanese company added to the considered first Modern e-Reader: Sony Reader. This date, 2006, is considered the beginning of the boom in electronic readers, whose popularity increased incredibly.
After the eBook boom, self–publishing followed the same path. Now any author was able to not only self-publish his book, but do so in a much more economical way. The author no longer even had to print his book. It was enough to write it and sell it online, but what figures are we talking about?
Today, finding reports and figures about self-publishing is a suicide mission. Neither platform provides data on the industry. Not even Amazon or Apple. Now, Dosdoce.com published a document titled ‘The Radiography of self-publishing in Latin America’. In this document I stated that since the appearance of the first e-Reader in 2006 until 2016, self-published works have increased by 400% in the Latin American market. According to the latest data from said report, in Spain, in 2016, there were around 8,000 self-published works. And according to the Bower report, in the United States in 2016 there were about 790,000 self-published titles.
The most interesting thing to know is that no self-published author is alone. According to the same Bower report, in 2008, at the height of the e-Reader boom, it was the first time that the global number of self-published books exceeded that of those published by publishers. This figure is increasing little by little and as of 2018 it continues to increase. It is also worth mentioning that both the physical format and the electronic format are at excellent sales levels. Today it is impossible to lose money with self-publishing and print on demand.
If you’re curious to know what prices a self-published author could earn, you can check the profit margins in our price calculator
The after – The history of self-publishing in a couple of decades
The self-publishing boom lasted from approximately 2006 to 2011. Although the numbers were spectacular during those years, they are even more so now.
In fact, there are hundreds of self-publishing companies and each of them has its own operation. As the years go by, more and more companies are emerging within this industry. Competition is high, but it is expected to be much higher within a decade. With the increase in competition and the increase in famous authors who have decided to self-publish, the self-publishing industry is becoming a very powerful sector. The only thing that people miss is the promotion option in bookstores. This function is only typical of traditional publishers. Although who knows, maybe self-publishing publishers will join in in the future. Aside from that, self-publishing is one of the best options nowadays.
The world of self-publishing is a huge, huge industry. And it is necessary for writers to see self-publishing as a good option for publishing. Few know that large profit margins are extracted from self-publishing. Still, self-publishing Ghostwriting Agencies must know how to take advantage of it. Most don’t know how to promote their book and are content to sell it to their friends and family. In short, the main problem that will have to be solved in the coming years will be knowing how to find and reach the ideal audience.
The self-publishing author must learn to know who the target and potential audience of his or her story is. Also learn where it is and how to get to it (by what routes). In fact, one of the main ways is social networks. No self-publishing author will become established without using his or her social networks. We take advantage of the blog, from Writers of USA, to tell you that we also use social networks and that they are key to making ourselves known. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
It is also expected that more famous authors who have always preferred to publish will switch to the self-publishing format. At least in one of his books. Thus we find authors such as Paulo Coelho (2015) or Stephen King (2000). While there are few authors determined to charge more for more self-effort, in the future more well-known authors are expected to join the self-publishing revolution.
Future challenges. The history of self-publishing
Another challenge to be met is digital education: the author must learn to position himself on Google. His books can perfectly appear on the first page of Google without having any relationship with large platforms. Google takes into account relevance and how well the page is built, therefore, a little SEO knowledge for your website will always come in handy. If you have questions about this, you can take a look at our SEO for authors blog.
In short, although there is a lot of work to do, the self-publishing industry is already a consolidated industry. He no longer tries to survive as he did decades ago. Now self-publishing is not just another alternative, but a real option.