There is this: it isn’t very difficult to do, but it is difficult to do well. It is a trope that you can take, and apply to many of the things that have been foisted back upon us in the modern first world economy and marketplace. Think about self-checkouts, thing about mortgage comparison sites, think about utility bill saving. These are all things that it is now ‘easy’ to do, but the question of whether we should be doing them and how well we can do this is rarely addressed. Someone who is paid a decent wage and runs a check out all day will pack your bags more quickly and do a better job. You’ll expend less effort and shopping is less of a chore. Someone who knows all the mortgages on the market (a broker) will make getting a mortgage much less painful than manually trawling every mortgage providers website and catalogue and adding in your details time and time again.
And so, we come to self-publishing. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be done, and it enables people to get their material out to the market place for others to read, and peruse and maybe even pay for. But when it comes to an author who has the choice between a publisher and no publisher, one of the reasons you’d go with a publisher is because they offer a professional service : they pack your bags for you. They check the market rates and discounts. They deduct your taxes and send those off to the Inland Revenue. They spend a while working out how big the running heads should be.
Antithesis: think about the positives of self checkouts. You get to do it your way. You take your time. You don’t have to interact with anyone. You can labour over your love. But your time is money, too: the time it takes for you to do what ten years ago would have been done for you. On a site like createspace you can spend hours, days, months, crafting your own book. Congratulations! You are now a publisher. Only you don’t draw a salary.
It’s not like self-checkouts have made produce any cheaper: they have just cut staffing levels and saved the faceless suits a huge amount of money.
Naturally, this is just an entry point into this discussion. There is so much more to talk about that whole books have been written about it, by people much more vested in each of the arguments than I am. But next time you sit tinkering on lulu.com with a book and wondering what a ‘bleed’ is on a PDF and resizing a page on Acrobat or adjusting the kerning on a layout, just think: wait, this isn’t a job. I’m at a self-checkout. And my efforts, expert or not, careful or carefree, profitable or just for kicks, are putting people out of work, driving down the cost of labour, saving Mr Suit a nice amount in overheads and — sapping all my free time. In fact, I’m a self-publisher! I’m so busy making books I don’t have time to read them any more.