Stephen King's adventures with "Riding the Bullet" and "The Plant" have made self-publishing on the Web more visible. Self-publishing, of course, has been around for ages. But it was always expensive for writers, who'd fork over thousands of bucks to end up with a garage full of their own unsold work.
Enter the Internet, on which the costs of "publishing" become the cost of posting on a server.
No surprise that Web firms have sprung up to cater to writers who feel left out of traditional publishing.
Xlibris is an online self-publishing leader, with about 2,500 authors, a number that grows by about 20 percent a month, says CEO John Feldcamp. Writers are attracted by better royalty deals (25 percent vs. 10-15 percent for traditional publishing) and the low cost to get a book published - Xlibris sets up books for printing for free and charges only for additional design work.
"What you're really seeing is a change in the culture that we're a part of," Feldcamp says.
Most of Xlibris' sales have been print-on-demand; fewer than 1 percent have come from e-books. "I think it's just an indication that e-books are not yet ready for prime time," he says. They'll have to be easier to read to take off, he says.
Another self-publisher, Mightywords.com is much more bullish on e-books. The spin-off from the earlier Fatbrain.com offers purely electronic "eMatter," usually in the range of 10 to 100 pages.
Prices are set by the authors and vary widely, from less than $1 to equal that of printed books.
Self-publishing as a potential profit center hasn't been lost on the big guys; Random House owns 49 percent of Xlibris. And Barnes & Noble.com owns 25 percent of Mightywords.com and 49 percent of iUniverse.com, a self-publishing service for print-on-demand books, which includes message boards and advice for writers.