Digital self-publishing upends traditional book world

A technological disruption is loosening traditional publishers’ grip on the book market, reports the Wall Street Journal—and giving new power to technology companies like Amazon to shape which books and authors succeed. Much as blogs have bitten into the news business and YouTube has challenged television, digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that’s threatening the traditional industry. Once derided as “vanity” titles by the publishing establishment, self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment. “If you are an author and you want to reach a lot of readers, up until recently you were smart to sell your book to a traditional publisher, because they controlled the printing press and distribution. That is starting to change now,” says Mark Coker, founder of Silicon Valley start-up Smashwords Inc., which offers an eBook publishing and distribution service. Fueling the shift is the growing popularity of electronic books, which could reach as high as 20 percent to 25 percent of the total book market by 2012, according to Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, up from an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent today. It’s unclear how much of a danger digital self-publishing poses to the big publishers, who still own the industry’s big hits. But some publishers say that online self-publishing, and the entry of newcomers such as Amazon into the market, could mark a sea change in publishing…

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