To understand dilemmas around internet publishing we have to stop thinking about books and publishers. The traditional publishing model is old, and we’re living in a new age.
A democratic revolution in publishing (what, when, where)
The internet has brought about a global democratic revolution in publishing which has shaken the industry to its core. Web 2.0 means ordinary people can tell their stories without going through the rigmarole of agents and stuffy publishing companies staffed by overworked, prejudiced editors.
The ease of internet publishing inspires more people to put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard). My father has just begun writing a novel, which he intends to self-publish. Not because he couldn’t find a publisher if he wanted – he is a respected writer – but because he doesn’t want the hassle.
A friend and I are currently putting together a book about cycle rides in Connecticut, again which we intend to self-publish.
As a professional editor, I have helped numerous ordinary people self-publish books on topics from Social Media in Business to a cancer survivor who became an Ironman.
A better way than books (how)
The internet has also brought about a revolution in how we think about books and data management. In ancient civilizations, we didn’t have books. We had scrolls, palimpsests, stone tablets, manuscripts.
We transitioned to books because they were a convenient form of storing large amounts of data in an accessible, long-lasting form. But they were only accessible to people with the money to purchase them, or to those with access to libraries.
In Connecticut, where a book shop is on every corner and a library is in every town, we forget what it’s like not to have books easily available. My mother grew up in a remote village in the Pyrénées, which had just one book – Don Quijote de la Mancha – for the entire school. When I travel in Africa or remote parts of Latin America, I go days without seeing a book.
Now we have an even more efficient method of storing and updating data, and a better way of making it accessible, instantly, on a range of digital devices, at marginal cost. It’s called the internet. And we should embrace internet publishing in all its forms.
Why should we embrace digital publishing?
I love digital publishing. I love the ease and the speed. I love the democracy of it. I love that I can get a sample before deciding whether I want to buy a book. I love that the books are cheaper, or even free, so I can afford more.
I love that my visually impaired mother can set the text to its largest size and read once again. I love that my blind friend can turn on text-to-speech, and not have to fiddle about with Braille.
I love that I can take my entire library on vacation with me, in one slim, light, device, rather than make the difficult decision about which heavy books I can’t do without and how many I might read.
I love that I can publish instantly, edit instantly, remove instantly, add color and images at zero cost, change the layout in seconds. I love that I can write something that a small boy or girl in a remote village in Nigeria or China might read on a cell phone and find useful.
I love that we no longer have to write books. We can publish articles, blogs, snippets of insight and inspiration. We can publish not just words but images and videos. Soon, we may be able to publish objects and smells. It’s coming.
What’s really next in digital publishing?
I wish I knew. I’d make a fortune. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying the ride.
Peter Osnos, The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S. in The Atlantic, April 17, 2012.