Book Business

Déjà Vu All Over Again – Indie (AND) Traditional Publishing

The discussion of indie versus traditional publishing has been bothering me lately. I know it is still a relatively new issue that everyone involved in publishing needs to sort out, but what has been bothering me is that I know I have heard this kind of discussion before and could not think when.

After much brain-racking, it finally dawned on me.

It was in the 1980’s when personal computers were starting to make inroads to both homes and businesses. I worked for a small company and was asked to spearhead the “computerization” of the office.  With little direction and even less knowledge of computers, I set off on my quest to investigate the correct path for the company.

My first stop was to a store that specialized in Apple Macintosh computers. The conversation with the store associate went something like this:

Me: “I am looking for the right direction for computers at our company.”

Mac: “I would be happy to help you sir.” (It was cool to be called sir in the early 80’s)

Me: “Here is a list of applications we need, I would be happy to hear your recommendations.”

Mac: (without reading the list very carefully) “Oh, you have come to the right place. If you buy all Apple Macintosh products, it will meet all your needs and you don’t even need to consider those evil PC’s using that evil DOS operating system.” (OK, I added some interpretation to make this a good story)

Needless to say, the guy wasn’t very helpful. He was interested in selling his solution to anyone who had a need. Whatever the need, Apple had the solution, no questions asked. No need to look further. I actually would have liked him to ask questions to see if he understood anything about our business.

I thanked the Apple guy for his help and went to another computer store that sold PC’s, running the (evil) DOS operating system. That conversation sounded like this:

Me: “I am looking for the right direction for computers for our company”

DOS: “I would be happy to help you young man.” (The PC computer guys were older)

Me: “Here is a list of applications we need, I would be happy to hear your recommendations.”

DOS: (without reading the list very carefully) “Oh, you have come to the right place. If you buy all PC products running DOS, it will meet all your needs and you don’t even need to consider those silly playtime computers from Apple. You know, they build those things in garages from parts taken from household appliances like toasters.” (Again, my interpretation to make my point.)

Here’s what was happening: Neither side was entirely right or wrong.  In fact, anyone who had a perspective that didn’t include a healthy dose of balance was actually not helpful at all. They were not customer-focused. They were focused on what they were paid to sell.

There is a place for Indie publishing and there is a place for traditional publishing.  Anyone who tells you one or the other is the only way is really only saying, “This is what works better for me, right now.”  In reality, what works for one may not work for another and what works best might change a year from now.

What is the correct way to view the Indie vs. Traditional discussion?

It starts by removing the “vs.” from between the two terms and inserting he word “and”.  The only people who want to keep the “vs.” are those that are selling a certain approach or had a bad experience with one or the other. Everyone else must navigate a world that includes an appropriate mix of both.

What did I do 30 years ago with the computers? We bought some Macs for the creative people and PC’s for the accountants. Everyone was happy and filled with joy…until six months later when new upgrades of the computers came out and then the staff wanted the next thing.

I pretended I didn’t hear them talking.


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