Steve Spatz, president of BookBaby

The book publishing world is changing rapidly. From e-books, to self-publishing, to crowdfunding options, authors today have a variety of tools at their disposal to make their work available to their audience. We recently spoke with Steven Spatz of BookBaby — who promise "self-publishing, simplified" — about the current advances in publishing, and the many choices  available to writers. Here's what Steven had to say.

The digital revolution changed the music industry largely to a “rent,” rather than “own” model, with on-demand streaming. We see the television and film industries adjusting and reacting to that now as well. As a massive fan of print, what’s the future of books and the publishing industry?

I’m tempted to answer this: ‘Whatever Jeff Bezos wants it to be!’ Amazon is such a dominant force in the publishing world and its appetite for more remains as strong as ever. But lately there have been some new or renewed entrants into the space. Walmart has partnered with Kobo, one of the earliest and still eBook stores, to offer digital content and eBook readers. Google is determined to find its place in this arena – we distribute a lot of eBooks through Google Play now. And Apple is shaking the dust of its iBooks store with some new branding and more. Something tells me that Facebook and maybe even Twitter has some designs on the publishing world. In the ‘rent’ arena, Scribd continues to grow with its book subscription model, and hoopla is a groundbreaking digital media service offered by your local public library that allows you to borrow audiobooks, ebooks and other content. 

You are a sister company to CD Baby, which helped change the world of music online retail. BookBaby is more full service-oriented, from creation to distribution, but what did you learn from CD Baby’s success?

We owe our start to our Portland music cousins in so many ways. From the amazing CD Baby payment engine that finds a way to pay thousands of authors on a weekly basis, to the early relationship with key distribution partners including Apple and Amazon. There remain many overlaps between the two brands even through we’ve split the company geographically – BookBaby is now 100% run out of our Philadelphia-area corporate headquarters. Both brands have a keen appreciation for the creative spirit of our customers. Our internal motto for all our brands is to ‘help the little guy look big’ – and we do that by providing world class editing, printing, eBook conversion and distribution that rivals the largest traditional publishers. And we retain CD Baby’s mission to be the advocate for indie content creators – from music and film, and now with authors. 

Other than profit margins, what are the advantages of self-publishing? Any disadvantages?

Enhanced profit margins are certainly an important part of why more authors are choosing to self-publish. Let’s face it – 70% eBook royalties is a lot better than 12-17% typically paid by traditional publishers! But there are two more important elements to why self-publishing is attractive. The first is speed to market. Let’s say you finished your manuscript today. If you chose to self-publish it, you could have it edited, printed, converted to eBooks, covers designed and out for distribution in Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all the rest in a matter of a few weeks. If you went the traditional publishing route – assuming you already found an agent and publisher willing to take you on; an often months- or years-long project of its own – your book might see the light of day between 15 to 18 months! In that time – if you were self-published – you could have produced and selling book #2!

The other attractive thing about self-publishing is control – nobody can tell you how to write, produce or market your book. You’re the writer, editor, marketer and CEO of your publishing empire. Yes, that’s a lot of responsibilities on your shoulders, and some find that  challenge. Don’t worry – there are plenty of experts you can hire to help with your publishing career. One of them is BookBaby! 

The one disadvantage of self-publishing – it’s very difficult for these authors to get placement within bookstores. But now that over 75% of all books in the US are purchased online, that shouldn’t be as important to authors as before.

What would you say to a nervous, first-time author?

Simply this: You don’t need to go through the self publishing process alone! Yes, there are many DIY opportunities for authors. And many of them are happy to take on all the tasks needed –from file conversion to eBooks, to cover design, all the way to distribution. But we look at it in a different ways. We think writers need to write; it’s what they’re good at! Let other professionals take care of the technical heavy lifting. There are a lot of good self publishing service companies out there that can be your publishing team.

What are your thoughts on crow-sourced publishing models, such as Unbound?

I am an enthusiastic supporter of any and all ways that people can find publishing success. This is a HUGE market – and there’s no need for any company to try to protect its own turf. BookBaby is for many – but not every – author. Our particular formula of one-stop-shopping for authors + great customer service is a great choice for authors who need us for advice and expertise. But there are many other ways that people can put their books into the marketplace and we applaud anyone who has the creativity and energy to see their project through.



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