Resources for Writers

Articles Newsletters Links


Publishing Ebooks


Report: Publishing E-Books: The Promises and the Perils


Have you been trying to publish a book, and been fobbed off repeatedly by the publishers you approach? Do you suspect an increasing (profit-driven) conservatism and narrowness in traditional publishing circles may be stopping your highly original works from even getting a look-in?

If you have answered either of these questions in the affirmative, e-publishing may be for you. Before getting seriously involved, though, consider deeply ....

Here's a brief report and summary the pros and cons of this new medium, to get you thinking, anyway.


There has recently been an explosion of self-proclaimed 'published authors' - writers with no training or experience who will set up a web-site, post their writings on it, and call themselves 'published writers'; and, their counterparts, self-proclaimed 'editors' who set up a web-site and seek submissions (often without pay) from writers who hope to gain a foothold in paying markets from this.

There has also been a proliferation of self-styled electronic publishers on the Internet - websites that post poems, short stories, and/or entire novels for readers to access, download, or receive on diskette. Many are no more than electronic versions of vanity publishing, with little or no screening or quality control.

No wonder e-publishing has such a poor reputation among traditional buyers and publishers.

Yet e-publishing, if done well, can potentially foster genuine quality and creativity.

The promise:

1. Electronic publishing can give unconventional and innovative works a chance in an field increasingly dominated by the narrow commercial interests of large conglomerates.

As the Baton Rouge Advocate puts the point (16 Aug 1998):

"[The traditional publishing world is] becoming far less concerned with literature and ideas and far more concerned with marketing and profits ... The resulting mass-market mentality was allowing nothing new, unusual, innovative or alternative through the editorial gateway, and instead produced only banal fiction, media celebrity authors, and regurgitated ideas."

Because of the low cost of distribution, the electronic medium can create a space for literary and philosophical works which have no place in the increasingly finance-driven world of traditional publishing.

2. It creates a more level playing field. The equalising potential of this new medium is thus highlighted in a recent report on the impact of on-line publishing on journalism, The Middleberg/Ross Media in Cyberspace study:

"No longer can you control the media by owning the printing press or television studio. Everyone who wants to publish has a cheap, immediate and global distribution tool through an Internet account accessible from their living room..."

The level playing field can be a bane as well as a boon, though. So now to the perils of this medium.

The Perils:

1. The low entry barriers mean than almost anyone can set up a web-site and call him or herself an 'electronic publisher'. As Forbes magazine puts the case:

... The sad truth of publishing is that for every 'Angels of Russia' there are ten Great American Novels suitable only for a vanity press. By so lowering the costs of publishing, the Web also invites reams of unreadable prose. ... [Forbes, 5th October 1998]

Because of this, e-publishing lacks credibility among traditional publishers and buyers

2. Copyright is difficult to enforce and maintain. It is very easy to reproduce material on the internet. Unlike traditional books, which must be painstakingly and expensively photocopied, electronic text can easily be copied and distributed by email. Accordingly payment can be difficult to enforce. It is far easier to enforce payment when the text is on paper.

3. A very obvious one: Traditional print books are more 'user-friendly'- they are portable, and they can be read in the bathtub.


Recent Developments

Despite the above drawbacks, ebooks have recently been getting at least a look-in as a rival to print books, mainly because of developments such as these:

Nicole Bishop is the publisher of "Writerfind News", an ezine for professional writers and publishers which focuses on the internet. Subscribe at