Smashword’s Mark Coker just announced on his blog yesterday that 7 of the books on the New York Times best seller list were written and published without the help of publishing houses.

Yes, they are “self-published”. And that’s not even counting the top three occupied by the Fifty Shades trilogy which started out as self-published fan fiction.

It’s a wake up call for readers, writers and publishers everywhere.

The New York Times bestseller list is like the Billboard charts. It’s seen like the litmus test of English literature. Make it there, and you’re legit. In the past only traditionally published authors could be found on it. And it throws up an important question:

What does it mean for publishing houses if self-published authors can reach this sweet spot without their help?

Publishing houses worldwide are struggling for survival, but when asked in interviews about their impending obsolescence they always answer nebulously that they’re still relevant because they “guide, supervise and care for” their authors.

And yes, they will take care of editing and providing a cover. But if we look at the crucial aspect of marketing, publishing houses often can’t afford to equally market and advertise each of their publications.

Just like the music industry, the publishing industry is built on stardom. Big names mean less risks, higher probability of sales. Therefore, upcoming authors will often not receive the same care and marketing although they’re under the same publishing house.

But even for the big names, 96% of publishers in Germany for example say that “their authors should manage their own website and marketing” and three quarters of authors admitted that if they had success they did some or all marketing themselves.

Another example is the “ebook millionaire” Amanda Hocking who went from self-publishing to traditional publishing. In a recent interview she mentioned that while she was a self-publisher she was doing 50% writing, 50% marketing. After switching to a publishing house she said it shifted to 70% writing and 30% marketing.

The main point here is not that she shifted 20% of her time towards writing, but that she is still using a significant amount of her time to market her books.

Maybe it’s time to stop looking at traditional publishing as the “golden path” and self-publishing as the sneaky back-alley.

The New York Times bestseller list already shows that readers couldn’t care less how a book is published, as long as it’s a page-turner.

And maybe Coker is right when he says:

There was a lot of stigma associated with self-publishing four years ago and very little stigma associated with traditional  publishing. I think over next few years we’re going to see that reverse.