Self-publishing used to be a paper-&-ink enterprise, and the up-front costs of creating a physical book were usually borne by the author. Plus, before the Interwebs matured self-published authors had a limited customer base.

The growing popularity of online book-selling made distribution easier, and opened the door to a "print on demand" business model that eliminated the risk of paying for copies that might not sell. But the game didn't really change until the arrival of e-readers. Not only was the distribution problem solved, the up-front costs associated with paper-&-ink publishing were finally eliminated. E-publishing was easy and risk-free for authors, and (ta da!) Indie-publishing was born.

At this point, pretty much everyone understands how authors benefit from the Indie-publishing model. I can upload a novel directly to the seller's website, sell 150 copies, and make $50. That's a good deal for me: it's free, I have access to a huge pool of potential readers, and there are no hoops to jump through (no agents, no editors, no delay). Assuming I can't (or don't want to) follow a traditional publishing path, Indie-publishing offers an excellent alternative.

Jenny Crusie has a fabulous and comprehensive post about the topic here, pointing out the benefits - and drawbacks - of Indie-publishing. Like most people, Crusie focuses on the pros and cons of Indie-publishing for authors.

But what I find even more interesting is how attractive Indie-publishing is to online booksellers. For the cost of a little web infrastructure, companies like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble have a brand new source of revenue. Bypassing traditional publishing may or may not be a good idea for the author, and as Crusie and others point out, every writer needs to consider the pros and cons and make a decision on a book-by-book basis.

But for the online book-sellers there's really no downside to encouraging writers to "go Indie." In exchange for minimal services (converting documents to e-reader format, processing payments, maintaining an online presence) the same 150 sales that earn the author $50 will net $100 for the online book-seller. In a worst case scenario, authors will upload drivel, no one will buy it, and no one will make any money. But it's far more likely that at least some authors will upload something of interest to at least a few hundred people. The author makes a little money; the online seller makes a little money; and everyone is happy.

Unlike authors, online booksellers really don't have to weigh the pros and cons of Indie-publishing. It's always worth it for an online booksellers to make their infrastructure and customer base available to Indie authors, because - hey! - free money!

I don't think Indie-Publishing will replace traditional publishing, but I do think it's here to stay. And I don't think that's due to authors (or readers) being fed up with traditional publishing. I think the real winners in the Indie-publishing business model may be companies like Amazon and B&N. Which makes me wonder whether there's a way to connect local bookstores with Indie-publishing.

What do you guys think?