Publishing Isn't A Job Anymore: It's A Button

from the disruption-at-work dept

Tim Lee points us to a really fantastic (as per usual) discussion with Clay Shirky about media disruption, in which he makes the key point that publishing is no longer a job, but a button:
Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. 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.
Now, of course, publishing as a profession means more than just making public, but that is the root of it, and Shirky is absolutely right that that role is changing completely -- and that means that the industries that built themselves up by glorifying their ability to be a gatekeeper in making things public are going to struggle to adapt. There certainly are other important roles, but they're not "publishing" per se.:
The question isn’t what happens to publishing — the entire category has been evacuated. The question is, what are the parent professions needed around writing? Publishing isn’t one of them. Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers. Will we have a movie-studio kind of setup, where you have one class of cinematographers over here and another class of art directors over there, and you hire them and put them together for different projects, or is all of that stuff going to be bundled under one roof? We don’t know yet. But the publishing apparatus is gone. Even if people want a physical artifact — pipe the PDF to a printing machine.
When you think about it, this really does hit on the key point of disruption for so many of the industries we talk about today. The main role that the gatekeepers had was in helping to "make your work public." But that role isn't needed any more (nor is there any real gate any more). You can make anything public that you want and reach the entire world. Of course, there are still plenty of other things -- making it better, promoting it, monetizing it, etc. And all of those roles are very important, but the role of making something public was the only one that really had that gate. And since there was that gate, the gatekeeper could control everything and demand total ownership over the work. That's what we've seen for centuries.

The difference today is that the gates are gone, the need for help to make something public is gone, and those other things -- publicity, improving the product, monetizing, etc. -- can all be done by lots of organizations, rather than just a few. Thus, there is no need for gatekeepers, but (once again), it's all about the enablers. The enablers help make your work better, but still leave you and the work at the center. The gatekeepers stripped your work from you for a pittance. It's a very different world, but it's a much better world for creators -- and it all comes back to the fact that publishing is no longer a job, but a button.


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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    It's about as foolish as saying the "copy" button on the photocopier is publishing. It's sort of typical hogwash, really.

    Publishing isn't just the act of pushing the button. Pushing the button on a blank page means there is nothing "published". What this shows is what I often see you doing here, getting too close to something, narrowly looking at one very small part of a process, and attempting to whitewash the rest of it from that single point of view.

    WTG on missing the forest because of the tree you jammed into your eye.

     

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:28am

      Re:

      WTG on missing the forest because of the tree you jammed into your eye.

      You really need to stop looking in the mirror when you write. Your self hatred is bleeding into your commentary on articles you clearly did not read.

       

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        :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:32am

        Re: Re: Time waste

        Come now, we both know you're wasting your time.

        Trolls can't help it, and shills won't stop because they're being paid to be Johnny-on-the-spot with vitriol.

        Either way, no stop in sight.

        Just remember what the Bible says: "Heap the hot coals of kindness on their heads."

        So, once we find him, one of can hold him down and the other can shovel the coals on him.

        ;-P

         

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      Lowestofthekeys (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:31am

      Re:

      How is it whitewashing? Publishers did act as gatekeepers, and self-publishing is as easy as clicking a button in Wordpress.

      Oh wait...attacking credibility instead of addressing the point, I get it.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:34am

      Re:

      "It's about as foolish as saying the "copy" button on the photocopier is publishing."

      That would be a foolish thing to say (hint: it would be duplication, not publishing). Now, please tell me why the "publish" button on my Wordpress installation isn't publishing anything, even though my post is published as soon as I press that button. That should be entertaining.

      "Pushing the button on a blank page means there is nothing "published"."

      So... nothing is published unless there's something to publish? If there's something to publish, it's published, and Mike is somehow being misleading by not stating the frigging obvious?

      Idiocy on every post, thank you for your constant entertainment value.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:49am

        Re: Re:

        " Now, please tell me why the "publish" button on my Wordpress installation isn't publishing anything, even though my post is published as soon as I press that button. That should be entertaining."

        You almost got it Paul, but once again, you are too busy trying to defend Mike to actually think for yourself.

        The "publish" button isn't any more significant in the process than any of the other parts. If you didn't write a post, and just pushed "publish" you would end up with a blog full of nothing.

        Let's try another example: If you have wordpress on your local machine, and you write something and push "publish" was it in fact published? Nope. It was saved on a database. The actual public distribution is the key, not the silly button. Without the webserver, without connectivity, and yes, without people actually seeing your work your publish button does nothing except stroke your own ego.

        The publish button does very little in and of itself, and certainly has not by itself replaced a publishing industry. I know it's hard to understand, but try stepping back and actually thinking about it, instead of just accepting your morning spoon of pap.

         

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          The Infamous Joe (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:32am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You're trying too hard, friend. You know what Mike is getting at: that we don't need to go to a publisher to publish something. You, for reasons that are pathetically obvious, latch on to semantics in an, again, pathetically obvious, attempt to discredit the author instead of arguing the point.

          Please, if you have a point, lay it on the hypothetical table and let us judge it on its own merits.

           

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            Sneeje (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:41am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I agree with Lobo, the logic is so twisted, the only possible reason for the posts could be to be contrary for contrary's sake.

            Ergo, no point in debating empty rhetoric. The AC isn't interested in discussion.

             

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            zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            But Mike's the one playing in semantics here. "Publishers aren't required anymore, if we define publishing to mean everything other than marketing, editing, art commission, etc. You know, all the things a publisher actually does."

            He's redefined "publisher" to mean something it doesn't mean, and then claimed that non-existent entity isn't necessary anymore.

             

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              E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:25am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The point Mike is making is that nothing a publisher currently does is required to be run by a publishing company. We can hire our own editors, illustrators, cover design and marketing. We can do it all on a freelance level. Why do we need to go through a publisher any more?

              Now that everything has been made available either through freelance or DIY, there is no need. There are no more gates to be controlled.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:06pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                It comes to the same thing though - traditional publishers are an all in one solution, a soup to nuts deal that not only gets you printed, but also gets you distributed and in the right places.

                You can hire 3 or 4 different companies / individuals to accomplish the same thing. The results are the same.

                Mike is just standing way too close to something to understand it as a whole.

                 

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                  John Fenderson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 2:55pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  You can hire 3 or 4 different companies / individuals to accomplish the same thing. The results are the same.


                  Exactly the point! By hiring a number of different people to do the different parts, you are freed from the tyranny of having a single monolith gatekeeper. The results, as you say, are the same, so using multiple service providers is the better way to go.

                   

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              PaulT (profile), Apr 11th, 2012 @ 1:00am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "Publishers aren't required anymore, if we define publishing to mean everything other than marketing, editing, art commission, etc"

              I can now do all of those things myself as well. I can hire a publisher if I don't wish to do the legwork myself or possibly get better results. But, I don't *have* to, and unlike previous eras, I needn't incur significant costs doing those things myself.

               

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          MrWilson, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Your example of publishing a blank page is missing a key component - the writer. The writer is not the publisher and the writer is the most important person without whom the publisher has nothing to publish. Nowadays, the writer can self-publish, especially if he already has a following and can make a bigger chunk of the pie from the publishing of their hard work. The publisher still has a role in publicity and marketing and editing, but its not as commanding of a role as it used to be. Writers have more choices now and that means readers have more choices now.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          By your own admission, the publishers themselves are useless without the manuscritps, right?

          And also by your own admission, the publishers themselves don't actually publish, they edit, wordsmith, do copy layouts and print. but without the distribution channels (the web server and web connectivity in your example) they aren't publishing.

          All this article is pointing out is that the traditional role of publishers is being turned on its head. If I create something, I don't have to wait for the blessing from one of a handful of publishers. I can get my publication out for the world to see without their input. They are not necessary anymore. The services they provide are nice, but not necessary.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:00am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "By your own admission, the publishers themselves are useless without the manuscritps, right? "

            That's right! You got it!

            It's important to realize that a publisher isn't a push button thing, it's not a commodity items. Most publishers are also distributors, marketers, promotional houses, payment collection systems, and a whole bunch of other things. Putting a publish button on a blog doesn't suddenly make publishers disappear.

            Instead, you put your ebook on a publishing site, that promotes it, distributes it, collects the money, and pays you. Seems like the publishers pretty much went virtual, and didn't disappear.

             

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              E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:27am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The ebook seller is not the publisher. The ebook seller is the retailer. Big difference.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:08pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "The ebook seller is not the publisher. The ebook seller is the retailer. Big difference."

                It depends. Considering that Amazon and others have different formats, effectively when you list an ebook at Amazon, they are publishing it for Kindle.

                The definition is slippery, which is why Mike's post is slimy. It tries to redefine a wide scoping term by looking at a narrow part of it's use, and then boot strapping from there.

                 

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                  Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:40pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  You're broadening the definition of 'publish' to try and make Mike look slimy. I think your aim is a bit off. Wipe the shmutz off your face and try again.

                   

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "The "publish" button isn't any more significant in the process than any of the other parts. If you didn't write a post, and just pushed "publish" you would end up with a blog full of nothing."

          And most of the traditional publishers didn't write anything either. They published someone else's work. So your point it again?

           

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          PaulT (profile), Apr 11th, 2012 @ 12:57am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You really are wilfully obtuse, aren't you?

          "If you didn't write a post, and just pushed "publish" you would end up with a blog full of nothing."

          ...and if I didn't submit my manuscript to a traditional publisher, they wouldn't be able to publish my work either. Does this mean that traditional publishers aren't publishers? You're actually trying to claim that I can't be a publisher because the writing, editing and publishing/distribution aspects are separate. Wow.

          "If you have wordpress on your local machine, and you write something and push "publish" was it in fact published? "

          Yes. It was published to a local machine, which would be an idiotic thing to do considering you need a web server and various other web-based components to install Wordpress. Either way, since my Wordpress instance is on a public webserver, yes it's published to the world as soon as I click that button.

          By your definition, if I print off a bunch of leaflets or I haven't "published" them until the point I start to distribute them (the publish button on Wordpress would do both simultaneously). That's splitting hairs to such a moronic degree, I can't be bothered to argue.

           

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          speludner, Apr 11th, 2012 @ 4:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I understand now why you don't publish your name.

           

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        zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:52am

        Re: Re:

        "Now, please tell me why the "publish" button on my Wordpress installation isn't publishing anything, even though my post is published as soon as I press that button. That should be entertaining."

        Sure. Self-publishing has existed for a long time before e-publishing. Printers will print whatever you want them to, a marketer will market whatever you ask of them, so in that sense, there have never been gatekeepers. Sure, it's a bit easier now, but that doesn't mean anything, philosophically.

        The fact of the matter is that "publishing" has never simply meant "making available to the public." Never.

         

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          JEDIDIAH, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:29am

          Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

          I can 'publish' anything I want now and I actually stand some chance of being seen. The process is cheap and doesn't require a large physical production and distribution apparatus. It doesn't require large up front costs that give rise to gatekeepers.

           

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            zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:46am

            Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

            I agree with everything except "stand some chance of being seen." I've seen no evidence that self-publishers now are any more successful than they were in the print days -- most self-published books still sell less than 50 copies. I agree it's less of an investment now, so it's not like you lose a whole lot when you fail. But again, pretending like just creating makes you successful is provably false.

             

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              dwg, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:58am

              Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

              This is accurate. Self-publishing saves money. Self-publishing also does not carry any cache--it doesn't tell the world that a respected source (go on, laugh) like an established publisher (Viking, Randomhouse) has selected your work over other work as something worth investing its resources in. This, like an artist showing in a gallery versus showing in some rented loft space, gives the author/artist credibility that translates into respect that translates into higher prices and often better sales. And a better resume, that allows them to move forward in their chosen career with way more ease than "I've printed a lot of books myself and published a lot online."

              Think of it like a college or grad degree. It may or may not carry with it a guarantee of quality (or intelligence, or ability) but it tells the consuming public something about others' opinions of you in the relevant area. You can't discount the value of that.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:25am

                Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                Except that all of the greed and whining by the publishers pissing off their customers is slowly but surely destroying the credibility that they lend to this equation.

                 

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                John Fenderson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:13pm

                Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                it doesn't tell the world that a respected source (go on, laugh) like an established publisher (Viking, Randomhouse) has selected your work over other work as something worth investing its resources in.


                True, but so what? The "cachet" of the traditional publisher has always been overstated, and is diminishing anyway. Very few readers select their material based on the publisher. Almost none make any assumption about the quality of a work based of who published it.

                What the old-school publisher actually brought to the table was not prestige, but access to the marketplace.

                And a better resume, that allows them to move forward in their chosen career with way more ease than "I've printed a lot of books myself and published a lot online."


                Not exactly. In the book world, major publishers are shorthand for sales figures. Your "resume" does not look any worse if it says "My personal publishing company sold 100,000 copies of each of my books" vs "[big name publisher] sold 100,000 copies of each of my books".

                And who cares about resumes anyway? Readers don't. They care about whether or not they like the work. They decide this prior to reading by listening to the opinions of people they know share their taste and by assuming that if the author wrote something they liked before, they'll probably like his new works too.

                 

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                  dwg, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:31pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                  Man, listen: it's not that I wish things were the way you're saying they are. They're just not. It's not that selling 100,000 books doesn't matter--it inarguably matters, a lot. But saying that having a publisher vouch for your work doesn't matter is simply false. Readers and sellers value the fact that a source they trust has invested in a work. It may be elephant-bumping--in fact, it absolutely is--but it's no less important for being so.

                   

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                    The Infamous Joe (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:55pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                    It doesn't matter to me, even in the slightest. I, surely, can't be that unique.

                     

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                    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 2:11pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                    But saying that having a publisher vouch for your work doesn't matter is simply false.


                    That's right. And I never said that it doesn't matter in the big picture. I said that it has diminishing value, which I stand by.

                    However, I don't think it matters in the slightest to the vast majority of readers. I've not done a market study, so I don't know for sure, but I do know this: I read a lot, and most of my friends read a lot, and never once in my life have I ever heard a reader mention a publishing house when talking about the merits or lack thereof of a given work.

                     

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                      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 2:13pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                      Oops, I forgot the rest of my point.

                      Publishing houses matter a whole lot to traditional retailers, for reasons which have nothing to do with the quality of the work itself.

                      However, traditional retailers are becoming less important every day, as is the value of having a traditional publisher's imprint.

                       

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                      dwg, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 6:09pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                      Agreed 100% as to the quality of a work. But look at it this way: a great deal of the books you've discussed with your friends come from publishing houses--and I'm willing to bet that far fewer do not.

                      Again: my position is that having a publisher is important when it comes to getting your books into bookstores, reviewed by media outlets whose opinions raise your number of likely readers and, by extension, the number of books you can hope to sell.

                      Diminishing value? Could definitely be. I don't think it's diminishing quickly, though, and definitely not as quickly as the importance of gatekeepers in music and movie arenas.

                       

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                        John Fenderson (profile), Apr 11th, 2012 @ 9:00am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Real entry barriers have been destroyed.

                        my position is that having a publisher is important when it comes to getting your books into bookstores, reviewed by media outlets whose opinions raise your number of likely readers and, by extension, the number of books you can hope to sell.


                        I don't disagree. My point is that getting into bookstores is not as important as it used to be, and is of decreasing importance over time. You need a publisher to get into the stores, but if you don't need to get in the stores, the cost/benefit of a traditional publisher can become unfavorable to the author.

                        The sea change that's happening is that the barrier of entry has come way down. An author doesn't need to sell as many books to make an income comparable to what was needed a decade or two ago.

                        Without a traditional publisher, it's harder to become the next rock star of the literary world -- but realistically, that's unlikely to ever happen anyway even if you're an excellent writer.

                        However, it's easier than ever (not to say it's easy!) to make a decent living writing books, and easier than ever to enter that career path, because of the declining power of traditional publishers.

                         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:21am

    Hey, of course publishing is still a job! I work a hard 40 minutes a week pressing that button once on a couple hundreds articles! I'm in danger of getting carpal tunnel syndrome if I keep up my heavy workload of blindly publishing anything that others submit to me!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    Typo

    "the gatkeeper could control"

     

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    John Doe, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    The move from disablers to enablers

    As you have written about many times in the past, if the gatekeepers didn't take your project on, you didn't get it out to the public whether it was a movie, book or album. So in effect, the gatekeepers were enablers for the few and disablers for the many. That explains why they are now struggling to adapt, they need to move from disablers to enablers and that is a complete 180. Very few people or organizations can make that kind of change because it requires recognizing that change is necessary and then having the strength to make that change.

     

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    exitstageleft (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:28am

    sounds familiar

    Not to change the topic too much...

    "and that means that the industries that built themselves up by glorifying their ability to be a gatekeeper in making things public are going to struggle to adapt"

    ...Sounds like it could apply to the Record Industry. They're losing their ability to control what goes public and they're keeping their heads in the sand wishing it would go away.

     

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:31am

      Re: sounds familiar

      Yeah it applies to a lot of industries in which a few major players controlled all access to the public.

      The video game publisher is going away because of many many new methods of self distribution. The movie publisher is going away for the same reason. The music publisher. The book publisher etc etc. The world of gatekeeping is going away completely.

       

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        zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:47am

        Re: Re: sounds familiar

        No they aren't. Those publishers still exist -- they're just being outsourced to the artists themselves in many cases. A successful self-published writer still requires a publisher to hire an editor, a cover artist, put together a marketing plan, etc. In effect, he's just hired himself to be the publisher.

        Again, that's a distinct job from being an artist.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:29am

          Re: Re: Re: sounds familiar

          Some exist and the ones that embrace and adapt to add value will continue to exist and thrive. The ones that don't will die off eventually.

           

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      illunatic (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 11:57am

      Re: sounds familiar

      Yes, most of the impact that the age of internets has had on various media industries applies to all types of content creators and distributors; written, audio, visual, interactive...

       

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    wild_quinine (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:37am

    Soundbite failure

    "Pushing a button isn't a job, it's a button."

    This is a horrible oversimplification. I usually agree with you, but I suppose you can't be right all the time, Mike.

    What is more true to say is that publishing is now available to more and more artists directly.

    However, it's still quite a lot of work, and includes quite a lot of different tasks and skills. (I suppose it might be more fair to say that *preparing* it for publication is what takes the work, but if you want to use that definition then sooner or later it was always a button at the big publishing house as well).

    In fact, publishing presents much the same challenge for artists going it alone as marketing: if the artist is going to do it, and there's absolutely no reason why they should not, then they need to put the effort in to achieve that.

    Now I've got absolutely no problem with making all of these tools more accessible to artists, in fact I think that's exactly the right thing to do to drive progress - not only of the artist's business model, but also of all those tools!

    But I also accept the argument that some artists are better at the creative part of the process than the selling part, or the mass producing part, and will always be happy to have someone (independant or otherwise) in their employ to push those buttons (after all the work they do to get to that stage, ha ha.)

    But sooner or later there's a lot of work to be done simply publishing something for which the 'artistic' side of the process was largely completed long before.

    Some artists won't want to engage with that, as I already said. The flipside, of course, is that it's also quite likely that some people will step up and fill the publishing gap that as the big players lose their grasp on it. And for a significant number of tasks, they'll be both better and faster at it, as well as making less errors, all good benefits of specialisation. And that will make their services worthwhile, for at least some proportion of those artists.

    In short, whilst publishing may now be more accessible than ever, it's still a job or at least a series of (somewhat skiled) tasks, and it still needs to be attended to.

    Customers absolutely can tell the difference between something which has been pushed out, half published if you will, and something that has been properly prepared.

    So the artist will still want to choose between finding someone to do it for them, or learning to do it for themselves. Both valid choices. Both recognising that there's no 'magic button'.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:42am

      Re: Soundbite failure

      Clay Shirky said: "Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. 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."

       

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    zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:44am

    This article is extraordinarily silly

    Anyone who thinks a publisher is a glorified printer has absolutely no idea what the realities of publishing are. A publisher is an editor. A publisher is a marketer. A publisher is a cover artist.

    Can a writer do all those things? Yeah, sure, but they take a significant amount of time and/or money. To pretend otherwise is simply ignorant. Most of the people who think publishers are just horrible gatekeepers with nothing to offer are the ones with shoddy, terribly produced Kindle books that no one but their mothers have ever heard of. The people who are successful at self-publishing are the ones who realize publishing is a distinct job -- it's just one they're willing to work at themselves, which is fine.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:00am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      you are in denial, just thought you should know

       

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        zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:08am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        Thank you for that well-sourced, logical takedown of my post. Let it never be said that only the "gatekeeper" supporters can be unintelligent, anonymous trolls. But really, carry on with your unedited, no-cover, no-publicity Kindle book that's selling ten thousand copies a day.

         

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          JEDIDIAH, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:34am

          Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

          You are far to self-obsessed to acknowledge the fact that the world is changing around you and making you less and less relevant. Your reaction is to lash out rather than adapt.

          Your cover art example is especially funny since this is typically something that the author has no control over and quite often finds objectionable.

           

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            zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

            Hm. I believe you're the one lashing out. I thought my first post was fairly level-headed. My second was a trollish response to a trollish reponse.

            "making you less and less relevant"

            Are you under the impression that I'm a publisher? Definitely not the case.

            "Your cover art example is especially funny since this is typically something that the author has no control over and quite often finds objectionable."

            "Quite often" is severely stretching it, but the point of cover art is to sell the book. In any case, I don't see how that contradicts my point. Cover art is part of "publishing" regardless of whether or not it's done well.

             

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:46am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      Anyone who thinks a publisher is a glorified printer has absolutely no idea what the realities of publishing are. A publisher is an editor. A publisher is a marketer. A publisher is a cover artist.

      You should try reading the post. I addressed all of that.

       

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        zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:49am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        I did read it. You redefined "publisher" to mean something other than what "publisher" actually means, and then attacked that fake entity.

         

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        dwg, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        But you didn't address the value inherent in "getting published" versus "publishing." There's more to the former than simple functionalities. I agree that there are other ways to get benefits similar to those I talk about in my post above--positive reviews, buzz, etc.--but it's similar, not the same. Being able to say that a respected player in your industry has gambled its resources on you is a singular benefit. Seriously: the art gallery is the best analogy. Do you believe that art put anywhere is as likely to make the artist a success as art shown in a respected gallery?

         

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          JMT (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:35pm

          Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

          "But you didn't address the value inherent in "getting published" versus "publishing." There's more to the former than simple functionalities."

          But not for much longer, which is kinda the whole point. Your "inherent value" was a product of publishers' gatekeeper function, which is becoming redundant.

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2012 @ 3:52am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        LOL

        What's it like living your life as a notorious douchebag?

        Your parents must be thrilled their money bought that Cornell degree and resulted in this...

         

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          PaulT (profile), Apr 15th, 2012 @ 4:26am

          Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

          "What's it like living your life as a notorious douchebag?"

          Why don't you tell us? Jealous that Mike actually has an education past 8th grade?

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 4:06am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        You should try understanding that referencing something is not addressing it, you worthless tool.

         

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      The Infamous Joe (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:47am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      I agree with you: several of the functions of a traditional publisher are still valuable resources for an aspiring writer. (I'm not sold on needing cover art, though.)

      That being said, for how long will we need editors? Google's new editing software in google docs will consider context, e.g., "Can we meat for dinner?" will throw an error.

      Marketing will always have a place, I'm sure, but the bigger you are, the easier it is to market.

      The real meat of the topic is that there is a shift in power: writers won't submit their book to a publisher in the hopes that they pick it to publish, instead, writers will hire one or more people to fill the roles they need filled, and, well, press "Publish".

       

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        zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:58am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        "That being said, for how long will we need editors? Google's new editing software in google docs will consider context, e.g., "Can we meat for dinner?" will throw an error."

        Are you serious? When we get to the point that computers can understand natural language, we'll have a lot more relevant issues than whether publishers should still exist.

        (and a good counterexample, Google Docs considers "all right" to be an error).

        "writers won't submit their book to a publisher in the hopes that they pick it to publish, instead, writers will hire one or more people to fill the roles they need filled, and, well, press "Publish"."

        And that might be a salient point, but it's not the one the article made. In that scenario, the writer has just become the publisher. It doesn't make the publisher's job any less necessary.

         

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          zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:00am

          Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

          It should also be said that copyediting is a small part of the editing process. Things like pace, continuity, etc, are FAR more important.

           

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            The Infamous Joe (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

            I wasn't trying to downplay editing, I was just saying that the road to computerized editing that is as good as a human, and we're already seeing the beginnings of this transition. 10 years ago someone probably said "when you can move a book across the world in 1 minute for less than a dollar, we'll have more relevant issues than... Blahblahblah." Yet, here we are.

            I feel like we're all getting caught up in semantics to what a publisher is. I am pretty sure that the underlying point was the one I made above: that control is shifting away from middlemen, however useful, and back into the hands of the artist. This is a big deal.

             

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

        Cover art is initially important for new works because we are visual beings and so an appealing related piece of art on the cover is the first thing we will see to entice us to investigate further. It's less important when a work is already known and demand for it has already been established. Can a work be successful without it? Sure, but it's a lot harder to get it noticed in the first place without it.

         

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      TasMot (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:10am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      Mike has redefined publishing to be "pushing a button". You said "No, he's wrong, a publisher is an editor, marketer and cover artist". I don't understand that definition, sorry, I'll get flamed for that, that definition doesn't make sense. Maybe to be successful a "creater", "editor", "marketer", and "cover artist" are needed and they need to work together to create the "product". Wait a minute, according to what you said, those four professionals are needed but what did the publisher do? Similar to the record labels, a publisher was an unbrella organization that handled many tasks for a creater, it handled marketing (advertising, tours, signings, speaking, on so on), editing, joining with artists (cover art, maps, and other internal art), payables and receivables, and sometimes nanny (for those that needed the coddling). Publishers also arranged with printers, binders, truckers and retailers to handle physical production and distrubution of the works. They were a typical "middle man", they took the work of various others, put it all together, and made the system work. Now, many of those tasks are unnecessary or automatically handled. For example, the work must still be distributed, but the flow of electrons across the internet is already easily handled by the Internet (well the IPSs will tell you it is hard but that is a different story). The retailer is a web site and because of the electronic distribution, they make their own copy (it's what computers do well) and ship it across the aformentioned Internet. Then (hopefully) they send a payment to the author (after taking their cut of course). So that website handles the printing (copying), marketing (display on website), retailing (although no stockboy is necessary), and shipping. Or, this could all be handled by the author's own website, in which case, he/she keeps a bigger portion of the pie.

      Saying "no, your definition is wrong" but not supplying a better one is wrong also. What he was saying is that the definition of publishing has changed from the gatekeeper role that used to have all of the contacts ready to handle all of the underlying tasks (and take the copyright away from the author). To a role that any author can undertake themself by making their own contacts (usually via the Internet) and publishing the work without a gatekeeper.

      The end result is a published work where the artist/creator/author still owns the copyright to their work, they get more of the fruits of their labor, and will sink or swim because of their own efforts and not the mysterious mechanizations (that they get charged for) inside the big publishing house where they lose control of their own work.

      Now, you may think that my definition/example is also not right, but then maybe you will stand up your own definition of publishing as a counter arguement and let the rest of us take potshots at it. Although it would be better if another counter-defintion is used to move the topic forward. The potshots don't really help except in a few rare cases of specific small points. Make your best effort and give your point of view defintion of publishing and we can then offer our insight on where you are right or wrong. This system is often referred to as the "Triad" or thesis-antithesis-synthesis methodology often attributed to Hegel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel#Triads) to continously refine the idea until it has evolved into its final (for now) form. Please put forward your considered antithesis for consideration and then let the synthisis phase begin. Then we'll start all over again for the next round.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:37am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      A publisher typically is a coordinator of all those things. A publisher HIRES an editor, HIRES a marketing people, and HIRES a cover artist for a work. They do not typically do all of those things themselves.

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 11:18am

      Re: This article is extraordinarily silly

      Let's break down the different functions of a publisher:

      1) The Publisher finds content. It is no longer necessary to have an organization that does this. The creator can create and distribute the content on their own. The consumers have a greater ability to find new works to consume.

      2) The Publisher edits. This can be outsourced. You can do this through the community or you can hire someone to do it for you. Again, we don't need a publisher for this function.

      3) A publisher handles marketing. This could still be necessary if you cannot afford but want large television, radio and print advertising. However, for smaller creators social networks can work just as well, if not better. So for most creators, there is no need to have a publisher here.

      4) Publishers create cover art. This is one of the easiest things to outsource for a few hundred dollars. Just recently JA Konrath was pointing people to a colleague of his that creates professional covers for $150. Why do we need a publisher for this?

      5) Publishers find an illustrator. Again, this one can be outsourced. There are plenty of sites with artists who would be more than willing to illustrate a book for a portion of the revenue or an upfront fee. You can find these people on your own. No need for a publisher.

      6) A Publisher gets content to the consumer. Once again we see that this can be done by the creator of the work. There is no longer a need for a publisher unless your goal is to get into retail stores that are still under gatekeeper control. For most creators that is not necessary and thus don't need a publisher.

      7) A Publisher provides validation for a creator. For the longest time, it was a form of validation to get noticed and published by an established publisher. This is no longer necessary unless your goal is to gain membership in some kind of guild that makes it a requirement. For most people there is no reason to be in a guild so why do we need that validation from a publisher? Consumers don't care. They just want something entertaining. A publisher is no guarantee that something will be entertaining.

      So tell me again, what does a publisher provide that a creator can't do for themselves or outsource?

       

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    Machin Shin (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:46am

    What is frightening to me reading this is how he points out that it was not that long ago that it was easy to keep things private and hard to make it public. Now it is hard to keep something private and easy to have something public.

    Looking at how that reversed I can see the rise of a new profession, that of "Priviters". People that instead of trying to work hard to get things out in public instead work hard to help you keep your information private.

    Thinking about it I'm sure there already are several offering services like that but I'm sure that is an industry that we will see skyrocket in coming years.

     

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    wec, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:03am

    A publisher is an editor. A publisher is a marketer. A publisher is a cover artist.

    From the article I don't agree with this statement. A marketer is not a publisher. He is hired by the publisher. The same applies to other two jobs. Publishing something is actually the last step. Once all the different pieces are put together digitally, the publisher(Symbolicly) pushes a button and it is done, the books are generated by machines, boxes labelled and shipped to book sellers all by pushing the button. Or they are distributed on the Internet as e-books(no physical books needed).
    Once an artist has the digital version, he now has a choice of several Internet sights that will make his physical books. Even create ISBN numbers.

     

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      zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:12am

      Re:

      "A marketer is not a publisher. He is hired by the publisher."

      Actually, many (most, perhaps) big publishers have an in-house marketing team, cover artists, editors, etc. That's all part of the publisher's duties. Some may choose to hire out, some may choose to keep those roles on staff. But either way, editing, marketing, art, at the end of the day it's all part of the publisher's job.

      Publishing in the modern era has never been simple defined as "making available."

       

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        Sneeje (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:45am

        Re: Re:

        And Mike's post (and the original article) acknowledges this. I'm surprised you glossed over that.

        Maybe the post didn't make this clear (debatable), but fundamentally, new technologies and new methods of social interaction are removing or minimizing any need for a middleman to reach large audiences.

        Are you suggesting that doesn't radically change what a publishers' organization needs to offer and to be?

         

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          zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:56am

          Re: Re: Re:

          He acknowledged it incorrectly by claiming a publisher is something which it is not. Writers go to publishers for marketing, editing, etc. That's what a publisher is. To claim anything else is simply redefining terms.

          And everything a publisher offers is still highly relevant. Marketing. Editing. Art. A writer can do that himself, and that's fine, but that just means the writer has become the publisher. And a lot of writers have no interest in being publishers.

           

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            E. Zachary Knight (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 11:20am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            And a lot of writers have no interest in being publishers.

            Yes. A lot of writers don't want to perform some of the roles typically taken on by a publisher. However, they can outsource those roles and still get them done. The rising number of self published authors shows that things are changing.

             

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            Sneeje (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You didn't answer my question, at least I don't think you did: do you believe that what a publishers' organization needs to offer and to be is not dramatically affected by the current technology and social trends?

             

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:09am

    "Pub"lishing itself is a creative act

    While the act of publishing and its costs have declined AND it's been made easier by blogs and desktop publishing programs it's important to remember that the act of taking, for example, a book, and publishing it to the web is a creative act. Beginning with banning, forever, Arial and Times New Roman type. ;-)

    Beginning with type face, then going onto the layout (different for poetry than prose than a news article or blog) the positioning of whatever illustrations the author wants to include. It's a lot of work.

    Right from understanding that most web pages are more readable using a sans-serif font the the one this post will be be in than a serif font like Times New Roman. The squiggly bits on a serif font aren't decoration they're there to guide the eye on a printed page full of dense text. So the publisher, be it the author or the person the author is working with to self publish need to know the target media be it a web page, the printed page or a PDF or other format simply for type selection.

    What's happening now, is a shift away from the gatekeepers to the creators themselves and becoming a process the creators can control and guide and THEN it's done at the push of a button. But do keep in mind that what we call "publishing" is, itself, a creative act.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:10am

    It's not just one button. It's a lot of buttons.

    From a publisher's perspective, the work it takes to publish something as a pdf or website as opposed to a printed piece of paper is about the same. You still have to write it, edit it, design it, publish it, promote it, and sell it.

    Technology has changed each step:

    Writers use word processors and access to the internet saves them enormous amounts of time in research.

    Editors also use word processors that track all the changes they make to a document. This help speed up the whole process.

    Designers have amazing tools to make attention grabbing work in a short amount of time.

    Printing on paper is an expensive, time consuming process that you can now bypass.

    Promoting and selling is easier, cheaper, and faster than ever before.

    Basically, the process of publishing has sped up drastically, making it cheaper and easier to publish anything. That's the only reason publishers have stayed in business.

     

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    Cowardly Anonymous, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:30am

    Rhetoric --> dishonesty, avoid it

    Your falling back on rhetoric and what happens to fit your own personal agenda here, which is actually quite harmful to the cause. This article does not make a valid point, and that leaves you open for attack as not working from a logically sound perspective.

    This is a shame, considering the vast number of good points that have been made here. This post shouldn't devalue those before it, but for some, it will. Greater care is advised to avoid such missteps in the future.

    A more in depth view of the shift, accounting for what the button represents and criticizing the article on the points it misses, would have gone a long way in establishing the desire for honest discussion.

     

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      dwg, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 5:03pm

      Re: Rhetoric --> dishonesty, avoid it

      This comment isn't the clearest, but I have to say that I completely agree with what I think it's getting at. I love techdirt and get a majority of my tech/IP news from it. It helps inform my opinions as well--I consider it a trusted source. But some posts, like this one, and many of the comments that follow, really portray the site and the community poorly. I know this aspect of the comments section is a necessary evil, since there's no editing (except for the hide function) of comments and I'm largely in favor of that. But the quality of posts themselves can, and often do, affect the quality of the commentary. This post was weak and jingoist and elicited comments in kind.

      It's sad to see simple bandwagonism where such big, interesting issues are on the table.

      Sorry, Mike, but you're the captain here, and this was a fail. I hope you learn from this one--I'm pretty confident you will. You pretty consistently impress me with the site, which is why I wanted to weigh in here. Oh, and hey all--don't let yourself off the hook with comments like "You're in complete denial." It's the Internet equivalent of giving another driver the finger.

       

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    SomeoneWhoWorkedWithPublishers, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:37am

    Publishers really don't provide enough services any more to justify their massive money grab. The best thing they do is give you an advance, but you "pay it back" using your pitiful 10-20% royalty rate. It's a bad deal unless you KNOW your book is going to fail.

     

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    wild_quinine (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:42am

    Publishers really don't provide enough services any more to justify their massive money grab. The best thing they do is give you an advance, but you "pay it back" using your pitiful 10-20% royalty rate.


    And that's exactly why we're seeing smaller independants stepping up, and more artists taking control of the process for themselves. Both good things, both driven by market forces.

    But some people here are pretending that the work which is being done, is not being done, and that does little to advance the debate.

     

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    wild_quinine (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:01am

    Which is why I headed my post 'Soundbyte Failure'

    Mike, you're absolutely correct that you made note of the fact that there *are* many tasks which at one time came under the purview of traditional publishers, but the soundbyte remains patently misleading.

    Publishing remainss a large set of tasks, which is still being done.

    I couldn't agree more that the gatekeepers are no longer the only game in town. But the issue isn't that their work is no longer necessary, it's that for many people it simply doesn't return on investment, and there are now better alternatives.

    Oh, I uploaded a brief video example, which relates to my own work, in case anyone is interested:

    http://youtu.be/cvRcuBwmkGE

     

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      zegota (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:10am

      Re: Which is why I headed my post 'Soundbyte Failure'

      Great video. I think a lot of people underestimate how much work goes into producing something like this. Even if you're not making a "physical artifact," preparing a manuscript for electronic publication -- and doing so professionally -- is not insignificant.

       

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    Keroberos (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 11:03am

    Wow, to say traditional publishing is like installing Wordpress and clicking a button, is saying all it takes to publish the old way is to turn on a printing press. The actual physical act of publishing something (printing), is the easiest of a long line of steps that you need to take before you publish anything profitably (or just to get it read by someone). First off you need to create or find something you think people want to read, then you need to edit and proofread it so it doesn't read like it was written by an amateur (or an idiot), then you need layout and graphic design so it doesn't look like it was published by an amateur (and to get it noticed), then you can print it (push the button)...but wait theres still more...you pushed the button, now what? how are you going to get people to read what you wrote? For that you still need marketing and distribution. All these steps exist regardless if your publishing method is physical or digital. Some may be easier with digital publishing (the printing and distribution part), but some are harder (the marketing and design, there's a lot more similar works out there all vying for the publics' attention).

    That being said, I'm all for the bad things about the gatekeepers going away, but many of the jobs they perform in publishing are still going to exist whether they do them or you do it yourself or hire someone else to do it for you.

    [DISCLOSURE] I do work in digital publishing (e-book design), and I can't tell you how many independent authors I've heard complaining that they can't sell many e-books (that are full of spelling and grammatical errors, and worded in a way that you can't understand what they are trying to say, and with a layout that looks like they just used a word processor for the first time).

     

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    Paul, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Wow so many comments to define publisher

    Google: define Publisher
    Result: Publisher = person or company whose business is the publishing of books, periodicals, engravings, computer software, etc. (found here)

    publishing = to issue (printed or otherwise reproduced textual or graphic material, computer software, etc.) for sale or distribution to the public.

    There is no performance factor no quality factor in the definition of a publisher so.... why do we always have to complicate things... give a publisher this divine.... shit

    See this is a publisher! And everybody went waaaaaaaaa.

    Now if we are to compere... take this
    Doctor = 1. a person licensed to practice medicine, as a physician, surgeon, dentist, or veterinarian.
    2. a person who has been awarded a doctor's degree

    doctor's degree = 1. the highest academic degree in any field of knowledge.

    Can someone point me to a Dr. in publishing I have this article I want to post on my blog....

     

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    Derek Kerton (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:00pm

    Add Curation To The Services That Still Add Value

    I'd add "Curation" to the two lists that you had in the article.

    "Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers."

    "publicity, improving the product, monetizing"

     

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    btrussell (profile), Apr 11th, 2012 @ 4:08am

    A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell. She decided to check out each place first.

    As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

    "Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

    A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

    "Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

    "Oh no, it's not," replied her guide.

    "Come on!" she protested. "What's the difference?"

    "Here," she said, "your work gets published."
    http://www.jumbojoke.com/heaven_and_hell_for_writers.html

     

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    Michael Sullivan, Apr 12th, 2012 @ 6:09am

    Not even close

    Such a statement can only be made who has never successfully self-published. The "book business" is as competitive as ever and success (with a few outlier exceptions) don't occur from the press of a button.

    All the same actions are taken: writing a great story, editing, quality cover design, marketing, public relations. The only difference is that sometimes these tasks are done by a traditional publisher and sometimes these are taken on by a small-business owner (the author) who enjoys hanging out their own shingle just as CPA's, doctors, and lawyers do.

     

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    nsk bearings distributors, Apr 12th, 2012 @ 8:14pm

    bearings suppliers

    By your definition, if I print off a bunch of leaflets or I haven't "published" them until the point I start to distribute them (the publish button on Wordpress would do both simultaneously). That's splitting hairs to such a moronic degree, I can't be bothered to argue.

     

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    Jennifer, Jul 25th, 2013 @ 1:08pm

    Getting published is not the problem; getting NOTICED is. With either method, traditional method versus self-publishing e-book route, the key is to write something people would actually like to read.

     

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