My crit buddy +heather webb
sent me a link to this Guardian article on self-publishing.http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/29/self-publishing-revolutionary-reactionary-authorpreneurialism
And while I agree that self-publishing is, in a sense, reactionary, this does not diminish its importance to publishing in general.
Mr. Skinner's argument is contained here:
"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."
I think he misses an extremely important point: That traditional publishing adds an additional layer of filtering between writer and reader in terms of creating and promoting an increasingly narrow range of content in the pursuit of the big commercial seller.
He goes on to say:
"But this [the democratization of publishing] 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."
I think he sees a publishing paradigm that does not exist anymore (if it ever did) that functions to serve literary culture. It doesn't. It serves the shareholders and the drive for profit. Nothing more, nothing less. If you doubt that, then look at the history of market consolidation in publishing that has happened in the past decade.
Mr. Skinner also says:
"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."
I don't see how this is unique to self-publishing. Marketshare is everything. Shelf space in bookstores is limited. Publishers are in competition for that space with every other publisher and every other book published. To believe that traditional publishers are in the business to create a shared literary space where all books sit around a campfire singing Kumbaya is idealistic in the extreme. One only has to look at the problem of the mid-list writer and the series death-spiral to understand this.
Again, Mr. Skinner:
"[Self] 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."
Again, I'd invite Mr. Skinner to speak with any number of writers who have had to utterly reinvent themselves down to changing their pen names in order to get their books published and on bookstore shelves because their sales numbers are poison.
Mr. Skinner continues:
"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."
Again, I wonder about the fictional view of publishing he holds. Ask that vanishing breed - the mid-list writer - how that cross-subsidation program is going. Ask the debut writer whose work is rejected by editor after editor no matter how well written because the publishing house sees the title as un-marketable. The fact that self-published books are finding their audiences means that readers want the choices that are being presented to them. How is this a bad thing? If publishers published a wider diversity of books, readers would be buying them.
Skinner's final point compares self-published writers to Ayn Randian Objectivists:
"The individualism of the self-publishing authorpreneurs, is disturbingly close to Ayn Rand's Objectivism, in which the greatest goal is individual fulfilment. . . .
If self-publishing is to be a radical and revolutionary force it will be forged by creative collectives, groups of committed writers and artists who inter-publish, contributing to the publication not just of their own work but of the work of the others in the group across diverse genres and literary forms."
This argument simply makes no sense to me. Creaters create. They create because they are driven to create. They do not create to contribute to some mythical creative/literary culture. By definition, creatives are individuals. But that does not make them "reject[s] community and mutual responsibility" in persuit of personal success without regard to anyone around them.
And I would invite Mr. Skinner to spend a little time on Google Plus or other social networks where indie authors are gathering for mutual support, encouragement, and collaboration. That true democratization he fears is being destroyed by indie publishing? It's flourishing.