A flawed but interesting article on self-publishing and social media

Ewan Morrison has some interesting figures on social media, even if the thesis of the piece is, well, unpersuasive. He claims that e-publishing is a “tech bubble” that will burst sometime over the next 18 months. As if that wasn’t odd enough, he explains the reason as follows:

epublishing is inextricably tied to the structures of social media marketing and the myth that social media functions as a way of selling products. It doesn’t, and we’re just starting to get the true stats on that. When social media marketing collapses it will destroy the platform that the dream of a self-epublishing industry was based upon.

Notice the oddity? E-publishing would normally refer to the industry or market, and self-epublishing to the method of publication (i.e., to e-books). But neither refers to its conventional referent, which is why the thesis makes so little sense and why he’s catching a lot of flak for it from self-publishers. In both cases he means the motivation behind self-publishing. What he’s really saying, in other words, is that writers will stop self-publishing when they realize the social media doesn’t work as a promotional tool.

Just a bit of a stretch. Even if you agree that social media promotion is bunk—and I do agree on that point; more below—it doesn’t follow that self-publishing is no longer a viable option. That’s a whole different hypothesis. Writers will write and seek some form of publication no matter how useless social media is. After all, writers have historically written for next to nothing—some still do—on the off chance that they’d make it big.  Self-publishing is the easiest route, so it’s hard to see why the futility of social media as a marketing tool with deter them.

Anyway, there’s still some interesting figures about social media on offer. Here are some highlights about Facebook (FB):

1. He cites a study by Reuters that found four out of five FB users have never bought anything based on an ad or a comment on FB.

2. GM pulled its ad campaign from FB because it showed no return on investment.

3. FB has lost 26% of its value since IPO (initial public offering).  

Individually, none of these facts is especially damning. But together they should suggest the limited value of FB as a marketing tool. If GM and FB investors see no value in it, chances are it has little or no value beyond the immediate social connections it helps facilitate.

I know many writers think FB and Twitter are great tools. I’ve never personally seen what the value is because I don’t see how they differ from any other saturated medium. Message boards, which have been around much longer, have essentially no value for either readers looking for books because they suffer the same problem as their physical counterparts: they’re cluttered with junk. This lesson was learned before Twitter became a phenomenon, so it’s hard to see why people image the new variation on the medium will work any better than the old.

Finally, I think writers should look closely at the people promising riches and fame through social media and self-publishing (Morrison names a few). I know a lot of them are merely proselytizers, but a lot more are looking to sell them useless services and super-methods for writing success. I also know that a lot of writers desire to be a success will guarantee that these hucksters are the only ones making money.

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