Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Latest in Self-Publishing Scandals, aka The World vs. BookCountry

"You remember when I said how I was gonna explain about life, buddy? Well the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking ya about truth. Everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or somethin', and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn, as you get older, is there ain't no truth. All there is is bullshit, pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life like when you get older is, you pick the layer of bullshit that you prefer and that's your bullshit, so to speak."
                                               -Bernie LaPlante (Dustin Hoffman), Hero

Last week BookCountry launched from public beta to being fully open.  They also launched their self-publishing services.  This second aspect has gotten a lot of attention in the author blogospheres, especially from successful self/indie publishers.  Here and here are two prime examples.  There are plenty of others.  The main argument being made is that BookCountry's self-publishing services are charging MUCH TOO MUCH for what they offer, and therefore are a scam and a rip-off.

You know, that may be.

But so is every other self/indie-publishing service, to one degree or another.  The successful self/indie authors out there who are trying to get everyone to Join the Movement (or Cult, depending on your POV) might want to pretend otherwise, but that's the basic gist of it.  Every self/indie service wants to make money off of you selling your writing.  That may be with an upfront fee, or a percentage of sales, or both, but that's what they want to do.

And that is all right as well.  Of course all these services want to make a profit.  I don't begrudge them any of them for doing that.

Before I continue, some disclaimers.
  1. I have been involved in BookCountry since early in its private beta, specifically in its primary function as a peer review site.  In that capacity, I think it's quite excellent and I recommend it.  
  2. I have had several exchanges with Colleen Lindsay at BookCountry, including testing out their self-coding-for-ebook instructions.  My main purpose in doing this was helping them confirm that their instructions were clear and easy to follow.  My main take-away is that Colleen Lindsay is a good egg in this business who genuinely loves books and wants to help writers with tools to succeed.
  3. I, personally, have little-to-no interest in self/indie publishing.  I currently have no intentions for doing it myself, nor do I begrudge anyone who decides that it's the best choice for them. 

What I find kind of fascinating is why some of the Indie Pub Pushers consider BC more of a scam than their Self-Pub methods of choice.  To which I say, eh.  I don't see Amazon or Smashwords operating on altruism. 

The premium package at BC (the one that gets their dander up the most) offers hand-coding of e-book/printed book layout and distributing it to various sellers.  Apparently, all you have to do is send the MS Word doc, and they do the rest.  The argument against, made by the Indie Pub Pushers, is that everything they are offering are things you COULD do by yourself with a minimal investment of time and money.

I can see their point, but on some level it's the Auto Mechanic argument.  Yes, I COULD save money by taking the time and effort to change my own oil and filters and rotate my tires.  But I don't want to do that.  I'd rather give it to a professional and pay him and not worry about that.  There are some that would say that's a bad attitude about car maintenance, and I should be more self-reliant.  But that's not for me.

Does BookCountry charge Too Much for it's particular form of Indie/Self Publishing?  Possibly.  But I find it kind of funny that the argument against is more or less, "Their rip-off is horrible.  You should use the rip-off I use.  It's much better."  Find the bullshit you like, and leave others to their own.


Sharon said...

I find it helpful to make a distinction between vanity press and print-on-demand. The latter is a quite reasonable printing service. The thing to remember, of course, is that getting ink on paper is the least of what a publisher does for an author; marketing and distribution are valuable services, which you eschew when you use a print-on-demand printer. But to call POD a scam? That's silly. When is offering a product or service for a certain price, and giving you the option to buy or not buy it, a scam?

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

True, but a lot of POD services will tack on (or give the option for) further paid services that bring it closer to vanity. Plus, I think POD services do, on some level, prey upon those who don't realize the importance of those marketing and distribution services.

And I agree, what BookCountry is doing is not a "scam", because it's a product & service being offered for a (some say unreasonable) price.

From some of what I've seen, the complaint is less what BookCountry is offering (which is similar to others), and more A. that the DIY publishing types think it's over-priced and B. that Penguin is behind BookCountry.

What really makes something a "scam" is if they are offering something other than what they are delivering.

I should point out, I don't think self/indie publishing is bad. I think a lot of people go into it unwisely, and if anything is problematic, it's the IndiePub Movement/Cult people who try and convert people into going to Indie/Self when it's either not the best choice for them, or they really aren't for it.