Books have always been present in our lives, since ancient times. Everyone has at least one book at home. Everyone dreams about stories and writers seem to have an aura of magnificence around them. Since the invention of print in 1455, books have been rejected, published, forgotten or adored. With the technological revolution, books are now spread worldwide and from physical books, we have shifted to electronic books. Moreover, with internet resources it has become easier to publish a book. Therefore, for many people the dream of becoming a writer began to come true. However, has the quality of books increased? Do people start to read more?
The answer to the second question is no, people do not read more. Or better, according to a survey in 2007 the habitual readers in Italy were only 39,8% of the population, in Spain 47,7% and in the UK 63,7%. In 2015, the situation has not improved; on the contrary, the number readers has even decreased. Despite this data, self-published books, for the first time, in 2008, exceeded the number of edited books and in 2009 were the 76% of all the books published while publishing houses were reducing the number of books. Moreover, with the advent of e-books readers and tablets and the supremacy of e-books, self-publishing has become even more frequent. And now, let’s see what is self-publishing.
There are different kinds of self-publishing. The first one is the POD, the print-on-demand. With POD a writer can print a determined quantity of books with the same quality of the edited books, entrusting his/her book to a company which can print even only one book at reduced costs. This method had always existed, even before the technological revolution. Nevertheless, in the past one could easily recognize the self-printed book by its physical qualities. Nowadays this is almost impossible. Another method of self-publishing is the electronic book. It is easier, it is only virtual and you need only a computer and a good editing programme to publish your book. Then, you can find a good retailer, as amazon.com, and it’s done.
The last method is what is called “vanity publishing”. However, it is a blurred definition, and it is not clear who really fits in this category. Basically, a publishing company prints and owns the book of a writer in exchange of a payment by the author. No other costs are included. Of course, this kind of exchange is convenient for the publishing company, but, for the author, maybe this is the only opportunity to see his/her work on the shelves of a bookstore. The book market is overfilled and it is really hard for a young or unknown writer to be accepted by a famous publishing house. Especially since the editors prefer to follow trends and fashions instead of searching for talented writers. That is one of the reason of the success of e-books and vanity publishing. Another reason is the low costs of this method.
However, the question is whether these methods are a new democracy in the literary world, and whether they affected the quality of books. It is clear to all now that the web has made millions of contents and opportunities accessible to everyone in the world at any time; and in these contents and possibilities are included also the self-publishing methods. Consequently, wannabe writers do not have to spend all their energy to find a publishing house willing to edit and publish their book. In a period of crisis, especially of cultural crisis, almost all publishing houses invest only in already famous writers, giving no space to emerging authors. Even if it is appreciable that unknown writers have the possibility to realize their dream through self-publishing, it is also true that the quality of books is decreased. In self-publishing there is no editor, no graphic, no marketing advisor; every aspect of the book is in the hand of the author. However, the most negative aspect of self-publishing is that essentially you can publish everything you want without passing through comments, revisions and advice. The result might easily be books with no substance, with errors and mistakes. Of course, this is not true for every self-published book, but it happens very frequently.
A possible solution for escaping this free falling in the market of book is that publishing houses decide to reduce the costs of production, invest in unknown and young authors, reduce the price of books to restart the market and as a consequence increase the number of readers. Moreover, they can benefit from the possibilities offered by web resources, using their competences to lay out the disorganized world of self-publishing. We have to rediscover the pleasure to take in our hands a real book, rediscover the enjoyment in reading quality literature. Finally, literature, and all culture, has to be open and accessible to everyone, it is a patrimony of humanity and as such, we have to protect it and return to value it.