End of the road for professional publishing?

The world of publishing is gradually becoming more and more dominated by technology. Up-and-coming authors can now have their books published in e-book format through the self-publishing system, first introduced by the giant online bookstore Amazon.com.

Authors who self-publish bypass the publishing house phase, drastically reducing the cost of having a book published in hardcopy. The author can sell their e-book at whatever price they wish, and through programs available on self-publishing sites, can decide each and every detail regarding the book -- from typeface to cover design, from editing to distribution. This way, the author also holds all the rights to his or her work. The system bypasses numerous levels in having a book published, such as the editor, the publisher and the distributor, as well as the marketing stage.

The global market in self-publishing is constantly growing, particularly because it offers an area of showcase for first-time aspiring authors. There are authors who have sold hundreds of thousands of books through self-publishing. The arena of self-publishing also serves as a showcase for publishers to pick from, so self-publishing authors can sometimes be picked up by a publishing house, too. Turkish online bookstore Idefix unveiled last week its upcoming self-publishing project called “Açık Kitap” (Open Book), which will be launched next year. The company will start serving self-publishing authors in exactly the way Amazon.com does. The project’s director, Bora Ekmekçi, says the website does not intend to make a leap to the publishing business with the launch of its self-publishing branch. “We will be providing amateur writers with tools with which they can produce their own e-books and a platform on which they can publish their works,” Ekmekçi explains. “This project will set [book] production free, there will be more material [to read] out there and it will also help publishers discover new authors.”

A book, of course, belongs mainly to its author, but there are certain factors that cannot be ignored which go into the process of shaping a book. The value of the contributions an editor and a publisher can make in creating a “book” from a “draft” has come to be understood just now in many countries, including Turkey. Having a book released by a prestigious publisher is the dream of every author, but in the meantime there’s a constantly developing technology out there, opening new horizons in every sphere, and the publishing world is getting its share of those developments. Today’s Zaman asked authors and book editors what they thought about self-publishing:

"What makes a book is its publisher"

Murat Gülsoy (writer):
“The Internet is a medium that offers people various opportunities to ‘self-publish’ in the form of websites, blogs and such. This is an irreversible development. Some platforms that mainly seek to sell books, such as Amazon.com, now present people with the opportunity to publish their own books as part of this development. It’s not difficult to envisage this becoming even more widespread in the near future. However, this kind of publishing will never outdo professional publishing. Besides, these two are not even comparable cases because what makes a book is its publisher as much as its author. The contributions of an editor to a book cannot be neglected. Professional publishing houses set very important quality standards for the world of literature, beginning from choosing which books to publish and which to not. Depending on the publishing house’s features, sometimes a reader might decide to buy a book by a first-time author only judging by the book’s publisher -- because they trust the literary-academic criteria of that particular publisher. But in [self-publishing], the authority that sets those criteria is bypassed. However good this might sound in the beginning -- for we believe bypassing the mechanism that rules [the industry] with its knowledge should bring about more freedom -- it will also have its own setbacks. The lack of such a mechanism -- particularly in the printing of books on academic fields -- would create confusion for some readers.”

"Too much junk in the name of literature"

Sırma Köksal (editor, Everest Publishers):
“Frankly, I believe that as the Internet becomes more widespread, it will forge new trends in literature. Despite art being perceived as ‘holy’ and greater than everything in our daily lives, it’s still strongly tied with the technology currently available in our daily lives. If this weren’t the case, how would you explain cinema, one of the most popular art forms in today’s world, or video art, which has almost started to outdo canvasses? Technological advancement will definitely have effects on literature, too. Maybe we will see too much junk in the name of literature because some ‘filter mechanisms’ can now be avoided via technology, but the readers -- and time -- will eliminate these. But, in the meantime, I’m sure this system will present us with the opportunity to read some very bold literary works. I don’t think we have a chance to choose between being for or against this trend, because this is an inevitable contemporary phenomenon. I’m genuinely curious about how such a literary world will proceed.”

"Limitless freedom will spark an opening in the floodgates"

Cemal Şakar (writer):
“Technology in its many forms has and continues to shape and determine many aspects of our lives. The Open Book project, I believe, is one such inevitable consequence of developing technology. In many ways the Internet can be viewed as the biggest platform of liberalism, where over time controls and restrictions have been rendered ineffective and transient. As a Muslim, I have always feared such a limitless freedom because it leads to an opening of floodgates, which is never a good thing. In this line of thought, secure and qualified editing teams and control systems are, in my opinion, preferable. I could never advocate such a project as this. The Internet is a haven for the devil, and with projects such as Open Book it is as if he is whispering, ‘Come on, don’t hesitate, you can do this too’.”

"The reader will still look for a brand"

Osman Okçu (general manager, TİMAŞ Publishers):
“We are certainly following the private publication of e-books. The issue is, however, that if you look back to those who embraced self-publishing in book format many of these were amateur authors and we never see their books. A lot of publishing establishments make a lot of money and some private publishing agencies even offer professional services. But you can’t forget that publishing is a profession. It is a specialist profession that doesn’t function without all its different components: publishers, editors, illustrators, designers and distributors. The fact of the matter is that as such websites become more common, the Internet will become like a garbage pit and readers searching for books and authors of a genuinely high standard will still look to reputable publishing companies to guide them. Ultimately the best books and authors will be published under the logo of publishing houses and these companies will have the best editor, designer and distribution teams.

"Without editing, publication can’t happen"

İlknur Özdemir (literary translator, Kırmızı Kedi Publishing House):
“This type of book and publishing process provides an opportunity for writers who can’t find a publishing house. But of course a number of issues come to mind: Without significant advertising and PR work, how will books be sold? Will the costs of making the books -- editing, copyrighting and design work -- be very expensive for authors? How flawless can a book be that hasn’t gone through a rigorous editing process? It could be considered that without expenses to publishers, distribution agencies and bookshops the author would make an increased profit but if the price of the book is low combined with low sales figures -- the author could end up making a loss. In Turkey, there are many Internet sites where people can publish books for free. One of these is “altkitap,” whereby for years new authors have been uploading their work onto the website for free to try and make a name for themselves. So the concept certainly isn’t a new one. When you look at the sales of e-books in Turkey you can see that it could go either way -- it may be successful or it may not. But one thing is certain, and that is that there will be a long adjustment process.”

Musa İğrek
Today's Zaman