Alison Baverstock, author of The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing, has written a lengthy feature on The Bookseller looking at the self-publishing field. In the introduction, she writes:
At a time when traditional book sales are falling and bookshops are closing, self-publishing offers a valuable opportunity to promote wider engagement with reading and writing. Writers who have experimented are developing skills and competencies that will make them both more demanding of future investors and better equipped to manage alone. This genie will not go back in the bottle.
To begin with basics, there is no single thing that is self-publishing; it is a process, not a product. It can cover a range of different situations and formats; from a writer seeking the objectivity promoted by a single-reading copy of their current work in progress to a "this is your life" memory book for an elderly relative; from a "how to" title based on professional expertise that functions as an augmented business card to an e-book novel which can gather momentum, prove demand, and then gain attention from a conventional agent/publisher.
While the vast majority of self-published titles will probably not be widely purchased or read, for the writer there are reasons for involvement other than financial gain. There is work to be done on the correlation between literary talent and insecurity, but my preliminary observation is that self-publishing authors are a happy bunch—perhaps because the act of completion, and accompanying awareness that what has been created is henceforth preserved, can bring profound satisfaction.
The rest of the article goes into detail at the importance of reading at a time when book purchasing is declining, and how self-publishing offers an alternative for writers who want more involvement in the marketing of their titles. Ironically, the biggest boost to this may have been given by the traditional publishers themselves, who now want writers who are willing to market themselves for free. And it’s just a short step from doing that for yourself to realizing you could do the rest of publishing for yourself, too.