From writer to reader, directly

Until recently one of the most basic pieces of advice given to any author was to avoid vanity publishing. In other words, if you have a book, make sure you publish it via the normal routes, usually with an agent and a publisher, and for money. The book will be printed and distributed to bookshops, and every so often you’ll get a royalty statement which will tell you how remarkably little you have earned.

Is that all about to change? J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has announced that her next book will be self-published in ebook form. For someone of Rowling’s fame this should be a commercial success easily enough, but it is possible that even people with far more modest reputations will in future be able to make some money by offering electronic versions of their work without the intervention of the traditional publishing industry. Perhaps even hard copy printed versions can in future be much more easily sold directly online.

It is to be hoped that this is exactly what will happen. An ever smaller number of ever more powerful publishers have been holding both readers and writers to ransom. It is time to break free.

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7 Comments on “From writer to reader, directly”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I just bought a LCD tv, so there might be a future in the e-book thing after all. And no, I’m not a Luddite, even if I do think handwoven cloth is due a comeback.

  2. anna notaro Says:

    J.J. Rowling is not the only example of self publishing by a famous author, another interesting one is Paulo Coelho (http://paulocoelho.com/en/store.php), but digital self publishing (www.Lulu.com is one of the most popular platforms) opens stimulating scenarios for everyone, everyone can potentially become an *author*,(for aspiring novelists StoryBook is an Open-source novel-writing software http://www.nanowrimo.org/es/node/3765728). Crucially, the role of the traditional *gatekeepers* of knowledge and information (being them publishers, journalists, education professionals) comes under threat. The situation is more complex than one might think and opinions regarding the implications of such telluric changes on our culture encompass the luddite as well as the a-critical techno-enthusiast. One of the most interesting aspects is that some new digital platforms now allow members of the public to fund and influence authors’ works at the point of creation, this is the case of the recently launched Unbound http://tinyurl.com/63ye7eh
    another interesting example of collaborative writing resulting in so-called ‘networked books’ is http://www.netvibes.com/flightpaths#Contribute
    The impact that such endevors have on traditional notions of single authorship and creativity is apparent.
    As for the future of publishing in particular Jane Friedman, professor of e-media at The University of Cincinnati
    has just self-published ‘The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations’ where she analyzes the future of not only authors, but also agents, editors, publishers, bookstores, and reading/literacy, all for the low, low price of $1.99! ‘Isn’t peace of mind worth that much to you?’ She rhetorically asks on her web site (http://janefriedman.com/enigma/). An interesting interview with Jane can be found at http://tinyurl.com/6ykzabv
    Among publishers, one of the quickest to understand the current trend is Simon & Schuster, now working with a multimedia partner to release “vooks,” which intersperse videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and viewed — online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Interesting video here

    What is certain is that print won’t be the unique medium for narrative and story-telling in the future, personally I cannot see anything wrong with that.

  3. cormac Says:

    It’s not all positive though, is it?
    One thing that strikes me is the problem of editing. In the traditional mode, the writeris subject to suggestions from editors who have great experience in editing many books.
    Wat happens when a poor written , self-pubished novel, riddled with garmatical errors becomes a model for all future writers? Or a scince book full of basic errors? As a science blogger myself, I have to admit that blogging has probably done more harm than good, particularly in the area of climate science

    • anna notaro Says:

      I personally think that there will still be scope for some kind of gatekeeping, the same Wikipedia has some volunteers editors, the main difference with the past is that such expertise will be a grassroot activity, ie. from the bottom up thus reverting some consolidated power structures re the production and dissemination of knowledge and information, I’m not a blind believer in the wisdom of the crowd, but being an educator I believe in the power of learning and the empowering which derives from it, and that’s exactly what new digital technologies foster (potentially)

  4. cormac Says:

    Sorry for the misprints, my keyboard is acting up!

  5. Ernie Ball Says:

    An ever smaller number of ever more powerful publishers have been holding both readers and writers to ransom. It is time to break free.

    Ferdinand, is there such a thing as “education”? Or is it education just “learning” whatever you feel like you want, whether astrology, ufology, what have you? Is anything anyone might have to say about any subject equally worthy of our attention? Or do publishers and bookstores and all the other intermediaries not play a valuable role in differentiating signal from noise? Or is it just that there is no such thing as a collective culture and, therefore, one person’s “noise” is another person’s “signal”?

    It occurs to me that your penultimate sentence might be changed by some to this one (and driven by the same forces and for the same reasons): “An ever smaller number of ever more powerful universities have been holding both students and professors to ransom. It is time to break free.”

    Is every cultural intermediary to be overthrown and in the name of what? Pleasure? Getting what you want? Everybody doing whatever they feel? And is there not a somewhat sinister relationship between this tearing down of all cultural intermediaries and the rampant privatisation of the public and social that has been taking place throughout the West since the 1980s?

    On these questions, you might enjoy this talk by writer and former programmer Ellen Ullman about what she calls “the privatisation of the idea of happiness,” the upshot of which is this corrosive question: “Why trust anyone but yourself to make judgments about what’s interesting, valuable, useful, good or true?”

    All of this, of course, is inimical to the very idea of education, which necessarily involves confronting the extent to which you are not the world and becoming something that you are not yet. It may not yet look like it, but disintermediation is nothing but a synonym for “dumbing down.”


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