The publishers' power rested on a tripod whose three legs were:
- Production. Books had to be edited, printed, bound. None of these processes was particularly secret. There are printing houses in every major city in the world that could do the job. But printing a book in any quantity takes money that's usually beyond the means of the average writer. Plus, as with many other manufacturing processes, doing things in bulk makes everything cheaper. A writer contracting with a printer to manufacture a one-time order of hundreds of copies of a single title will pay a fairly steep price per copy. A publisher who regularly publishes tens of thousands of copies of dozens of titles every month benefits from an economy of scale the independent writer could never dream of. Yes, a writer could do it for himself, and many did, but he could scarcely be competitive.
- Distribution. Once the books are manufactured, they have to be placed where customers can buy them--bookstores, supermarkets and the like. This is a task well beyond the skills of most writers. The major distributor companies who worked with big publishers didn't want to touch self-published writers (often with great justification). There were distribution networks for small press publishers, but they tended to be spotty and, in some cases, just as hard to break into as the major distributors.
- Promotion. Even getting the books onto store shelves wasn't enough to guarantee sales. People are leery of buying a product they've never heard of. There's all sorts of competition for the consumer's dollar; readers have to be given a reason to buy one title instead of another. Publishers maintained marketing and advertising departments to get their books noticed. Individual writers would find themselves staring at the face of a steep cliff called apathy
The indie or self-published author simply couldn't compete with the the mammoth companies who held such strong advantages. But recently, thanks to technology, this has begun to change ... and that's what this blog will be looking into when it continues.