The Democratization of Publishing

A quick thought on the democratization of publishing. It is quite likely that under a large, free, print on demand library system, you would get a huge number of titles uploaded, but as with subsidy published books, very few of them would get printed in any quantity. Memoirs, poetry, books that people write because they feel something in them that needs to come out are wonderful medicine for the author who writes them, but they almost never succeed commercially because strangers just aren't interested. Most people who read biography and memoir want to read about famous people or at least, biographies by famous biographers. Library patrons want to check out the latest bestseller or a classic. The local memoirs and "minor" books that get acquired over the years tend to get culled out when the library needs shelf space and they check the date stamps.

I do see many authors, particularly in the nonfiction genres, slowly disposing with publishers, but I think they'll be replaced with self-publishing partnerships that allow the author to earn a living, such as Google (thinking of their new video program), Amazon and Lightning Source. The authors who can't or won't work on spec will continue writing for the big trades who, through their business models, will continue providing the 80,000 wallpaper titles for the big bookstore chains who don't show any signs of weakening. There seems to be room in the publishing world for all these different models, but I don’t see many commercial authors wanting to work for free. Maybe it's because most commercial authors count on writing income for a significant portion of their living.

The Internet is a practical case study in the democratization of publishing. It turns out that the people who author book length content for websites, and I mean publication quality content as opposed to adventures in daily blogging, are authors. Some of them haven’t been published on paper yet and some just don’t see the need as they earn a living from their online content, but they are professional authors all the same. I suppose I’m cheating a little in my argument here, since anybody who writes book length content could be called an author by definition. Many popular blogs are maintained by authors who are searching for greener pastures. The demographics of authors haven't changed that I’ve noticed. Most of the productive nonfiction authors are in their 30's to 50's, people with the experience and know-how to work on spec, and wolves howling at the door for motivation.

The recent history of music downloads have some people outside the publishing industry convinced that copyright owners can no longer make the rules (the French Senate seems to agree). They believe that publishers and authors will simply have to accept any new distribution system and take what people are willing to pay them. I suspect that music was a somewhat unique case, and that model won't be extensible to books, forced or unforced. Very few people go to the trouble of scanning, OCR'ing and correcting books for the sake of giving them away. Most of the ripped books you see on the web are ripped from e-book versions, many which were published without DRM to start with. There’s no question that print on demand and the Internet make the public accessible to all authors, but there’s no sign that the public prefers non-commercial books to commercial titles. I guess that’s my second cheat of an argument today since titles are deemed commercial precisely because the public buys them in quantity.

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