Book Expo America And The Publishing Economy

It looks like I won't make it to Book Expo America this year, despite a Friday night party invitation and a couple requests for face-to-face meetings with people who I only know as e-mail correspondents. It seems to me that Book Expo America is always scheduled as a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which creates a very inefficient business trip for those of us who don't work on one Sabbath or the other. I stay away from both computers and publishing on the Jewish Sabbath, which wipes out Friday night and Saturday. Christian publishers lose out on Sunday and Muslims on Friday. I guess it's a positive that Reed doesn't favor one religion over another and gives air travelers an "includes Saturday" itinerary - but maybe it's a Buddhist conspiracy!

There are some conference sessions starting on Wednesday that look pretty interesting and might be worth an overnight trip, so I think I'll contact them and see if it's too late to get a press pass. Of course, there's always the possibility of ego bruising if I don't meet their relevancy standards. Trying to wear my blogger hat as a credential always makes me stop and think about my place in the greater publishing economy as both a publisher and a pundit. The sad truth is I'm probably best known for my early analysis of Amazon sales ranks, which has worked it's way into a dozen academic papers and gotten me mentioned in a NYT Bestseller (The Long Tail by Chris Anderson), various newspapers, and even a "crappy" slide on authors@google.

Self Publishing has never quite fit into the blog-o-sphere, I only enabled comments last week and started an RSS feed a month or two ago. I always saw a blog as more of a content management system, and figured a thousand new visitors a day from organic search is better than a hundred thousand subscribers. Having no interest in big trade insider trading (of editorial staff), I rarely comment on news items, which are the meat and potatoes of trade connected bloggers. Despite having published one book about publishing and almost publishing a second, I remain on the fringes of the independent publishing world, due to a reluctance to attend conferences or consult.

Where I suspect I measure up quite well is in the correspondence department. I've never sat down and tried to count how many individual authors, publishers and journalists I've talked with over the Internet or the phone, but it's well into the thousands. I've also noticed a unwelcome increase in the number of rip-offs of my publishing commentary, a classic back-handed compliment. I suspect the RSS feed and the rise of anonymous blogs built on public services contributes there.

Of course, the real question for any self publisher is whether or not it's worth investing the time and effort to become more involved in the greater publishing economy, or whether it makes more sense to fly under the radar in your niche and hope that nobody notices you. There's no question that a lean-and-mean self publisher can earn a living off a single successful book, and that inviting additional attention and competition will only reduce earnings. If you've published a book that's selling 20,000 copies a year and has escaped the notice of the cookie-cutter trades, you're probably better off not attending trade shows or talking about your sales online. Otherwise, you're likely to see the other side of Schumpeter's "Creative Destruction" coin.

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