What Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes is all pretty sensible, but at an early corner in this outing she almost drives over the edge and reveals her built-in anti-traditional-publishing bias.

To be fair it is difficult to say much about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing sales. Not all “traditional” publishers report sales to the traditional information-gathering sources, and all anyone has to go on with self-publishing sales tends to be anecdote. Amazon, the biggest retailer remains mum. We all assume (on the basis of anecdote) that the large majority of sales of self-published books is in ebook format. This has always been the case, and it makes sense — it’s obviously easier for self publishers to supply their product in digital form only thus avoiding having to mail out physical objects from a large inventory stored in their spare bedroom. Their customers seem fine with this, and we all think it great that this kind of service exists. We all, I think, assume that total unit sales by self publishers are larger than traditional publishing sales. However beyond the possibility of trolling for new authors, I believe that the traditional book publishing industry pretty much ignores self publishing. It’s really a totally different business. It is interesting, as Ms Rausch points out, that Bertelsmann is including some guesstimate about self-publishing sales in order to make their Simon & Schuster takeover look less of a monopolistic threat.

Ms Rusch’s assertion that the traditional publishing industry “did everything it could to destroy the ebook format” is patent nonsense. A person might think that publishers’ actions are wrong, even stupid, but they would just be “wrong, even stupid” if they concluded from that that there is some sort of conspiracy to stamp out ebooks or even to stunt their growth. Book publishing may not be a business to attract the top financial talents, but we do tend to know that selling another copy of one of our books in any format whatsoever is a “good thing”. If people want an ebook we are delighted to sell them an ebook (on terms which we determine, of course). If people want a hardback; ditto; paperback; again ditto. Ebooks are not the wondrous panacea to the traditional publisher that they represent for self publishers. For us they represent just another format.

In my recent post about ebook downloads from libraries I warned about over-interpretation of the data; a trap Ms Rausch fails to avoid. It does seem likely that our coronavirus experiences will bring about some significant changes in our business environment. Remote working looks like a likely candidate, and there’s a danger that the independent bookstore might also fall victim. The way a trade book is published has changed: less of a day one bump, more of a sustained roll out. If bookstores become less common this trend might become permanent. But any big change from print to ebook format seems unlikely to me. It is true I used to have a colleague who only wanted to own paperback books, regarding hardbacks as cumbersome. (He also expressed a preference for cylindrical food.) I offered myself up as a Jack Sprat partner: happy to have all the hardbacks. Although he was a publisher in an executive position nobody however thought of this preference as a policy to “destroy the hardback format”. I can’t imagine that in twenty years we won’t still have hardbacks, and paperbacks, and ebooks, and audiobooks, and no doubt some format we haven’t dreamed up yet.