In my new post today over at Huffington Post, I ask the question, "Does Stephen King still need a publisher?"
I think the answer is no.
Once an author develops the platform and fanbase of a Stephen King, Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, why not self-publish? They can hire their own team of editors, designers, marketers and sales force, partner with a couple big distributors, and sell their books for less yet still make 2-3X the profit.
If publishers are going to remain relevant, they need to do what Stephen King can do for himself, only better.
The HuffPo post is an updated derivative of one I originally wrote here back in April, in which I speculated the risk of publishing would shift to the author. Given the changes we've seen in the industry since April, I'm more convinced than ever that author will continue to shoulder a larger share of the risk of publishing, and this will lead to a dramatic transformation of the publisher-author power balance in favor of authors.
For most of the last couple centuries, if you wanted your book published, you had to work with a publisher, because they controlled not only the printing press but the means of distribution as well.
Over at the Huffington Post story, a great discussion is already taking place in the comments. MJ Rose, well known as an early ebook advocate, a self publisher, and now a mainstream commercial author, argues that publishers remain relevant because they control access to brick and mortar retailers. I don't disagree. Publishers still control access to physical shelves.
Looking ahead, especially as ebooks rise from a likely 5 percent market share in 2009 to 30 or 50 percent within the next five years, publishers will be hard pressed to maintain the same relevance.
If in five years half or more of the market has gone digital, then that's half the market any author can distribute to without the need of a traditional publisher. Smashwords already has agreements in place to distribute books to several major online retailers as well as the top mobile apps, and within the next couple years we'll have all the major retailers covered.
How do you think the role of publisher will change over the next few years? Do authors still need publishers? Comment here, or join the discussion over at HuffPo.
OCTOBER 18 UPDATE: The column at HuffPo has sparked some interesting debate and discussion, at HuffPo, on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Some Twitterers, apparently concerned I was questioning the value of publishers (I love publishers BTW!), created a special Twitter hashtag of #publishersmatter and a spirited debate ensued (click the link to view the thread). Kate Eltham, a writer out of Brisbane, Australia, and the CEO of the Queensland Writer's Centre, contributed to the discussion with an intelligent response on her blog, Alphabet Soup.