Our Publishers, Ourselves

by Zoë Pollock

Clay Shirky pops one of the book industry's biggest bubbles:

Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done. In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install.

His theory in action:

We’ve seen this with self-published authors like Amanda Hocking, who used Amazon’s Kindle platform to make more than $2-million in revenue for her books without the help of the traditional publishing industry, or John Locke, who has sold over a million copies of his self-published books. We’ve seen it in the news-publishing business as well, where web-only entities like The Huffington Post and Politico have created substantial media properties without the help of the traditional news industry — and in video, where videographers like Tim Pool and others have become one-man TV news stations. … 

In the end, Shirky is making the same point we have made before when it comes to publishing: if traditional publishers — of all kinds, not just the book industry — want to maintain some of the value they have had in the past, they will have to stop thinking about controlling the process of distribution or the delivery platform, and think more about the services they can add for authors and readers.