Self-publishing was never a guaranteed path to traditional publishing and many of those who 'made it' have disappeared or moved on. Some have gone back to self publishing. The trad publishing business model continues to chew up and spit out authors in an increasingly dog-eat-dog arena dominated by five big players.
Amazon started as a bookstore and grew. Kindle started the e-reader industry then realised it needed many more books to feed the beast and what better than to let authors bypass trad publishing and do it themselves.
It's not all been good.
With Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) all ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 were treated as equals - although some are less equal now.
Amazon started its own publishing imprints - Montlake, Thomas and Mercer, Lake Union, we lose track - and wants to market these over the indies.
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is the book service that allows unlimited reads per month for a flat fee.
The carpet-baggers, scammers, plagiarisers and crooks continually learn to game the KU system with stuffed, fake, and stolen books
Amazon continually tweaks it's algorithms; a lot of 'also-bought' panels have been replaced by paid ads.
Facebook seems to do it's best to obfuscate and hide author pages in favour of... paid ads. And now there's Instagram, TikTok; even LinkedIn is trying to get back into the war for eyeballs.
The pitfalls, traps and Big Tech terms have driven down author incomes.
But authors are releasing vast amounts of content. And we mean vast. Perhaps a million titles a month and rising.
Self publishing has been democratised by technology way past the initial Print on Demand miracle of Lulu and contemporaries. It is now easier than ever to get an e-book onto reader's devices - however badly and crudely those read and are rendered. You can print ink to paper in many bound paperback formats. Pigment on dead trees is not.. dead.
Genre authors committed to online marketing and social media can do very nicely, thank you. An author who makes it a full time job not just writing but learning the science of the self-publishing business model can do far better than in trad publishing. It's not an art, there's a hard-edged business model that runs on raw data and number crunching.
Yet many authors prefer it that way. Be your own boss, stop grovelling to agents and publishers in a latter-day feudal system of patronage, write what you want, when you want and engage directly with readers. It's still a hard grind, there's no advance and no contract. And authors are flocking to it.
The self-publishing industry took off with Lulu but is now a world-wide behemoth. Blogs, conferences, online courses, marketers, editors, designers, it is unrecognisable from a decade ago. It's exciting, frustrating, even a little bit scary. Who knows where we'll be in another decade. Meanwhile - we're in it. RC