From The Guardian:
Self-publishing has always been possible and, indeed, for centuries waspart and parcel of literary culture. Then it became expensive and, frankly, less prestigious, until digital books came along and made it affordable. Now price and success, too often the determinants of value, have made it respectable.
The idea of writers being able to bring their creations directly to readers is widely touted as a radical advance in authorial control and a revolution in the creative process.
. . . .
Unfortunately, self-publishing is neither radical nor liberating. And, as revolutions go, it is rather short on revolutionaries. It is actually reactionary, a contracted version of the traditional publishing model in which companies, who produce for a wide range of tastes and preferences, are replaced by individual producers each catering to very narrow range.
Self-publishing is supposed to democratise publishing. For Nicholas Lovell, writing in the Bookseller, “publishers no longer have an ability to determine which books get published and which books don’t.” In other words, democratisation is nothing more than the expansion of the publishing process from the few to the many. But this both overestimates the barriers to traditional publication – the vetting and selection process may be deeply flawed, but every writer can submit a manuscript – and underestimates the constraints of the marketplace. It also fails to consider whether the democratisation of publishing produces a similar democratisation for the reader by making literary culture more open.
By definition, self-publishing is an individualistic pursuit in which each writer is both publisher and market adventurer, with every other writer a potential competitor and the reader reduced to the status of consumer. Publishing then becomes timid, fearing to be adventurous and revolutionary lest it betray the expectations of its market. This is a natural tendency in traditional publishing but it is one restrained by the voices of its authors who are free to put their work first and entrepreneurship a distant second. With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.
. . . .
The risks that are an inescapable part of an industry where every book is a gamble make traditional publishers very conservative. But they are far more liberal, far more radical than self-publishing in its current form. Cross-subsidies from commercial titles support poets, academics and writers of new and daring literary fiction who will never appear on bestseller lists. Such concerted action is impossible in a fragmented world where each writer pursues individual success.
Can a literary culture where writers are producers and readers are consumers be truly open? Only if your definition of an open society is one ruled by the market.
Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.
PG wonders if the tyranny of the market is the same thing as the tyranny of democracy.