Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age

Briefly, if you're a poet or writer, the challenge of the Post-Gutenberg Age is for you to realize that there isn't any reason why you shouldn't sell your books directly to the reader, that you can, and that in fact there is every reason why you should.

For my most comprehensive discussion of this subject, see my essay, "The Post-Gutenberg Revolution: A Manifesto," in my book The Myth of the Enlightenment (2014).

“It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.” Clay Shirky, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” March 13th, 2009

"Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt...." Clay Shirky, "Napster, Udacity, and the Academy." November 12, 2012

November 16, 2013

Self-Publishing Perspectives: A Successful Author, Agent, and Publisher Discuss the Revolution in Progress by Kevin Larimer. Poets & Writers.

The Post-Gutenberg Revolution - ...finally another article that gets it! Well worth reading. It's about the READERS on Facebook and other social networks, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and elsewhere, global now.

"These are the new gatekeepers, who have all the power. In other words, readers, by word of mouth, are the people you want to embrace you and your book.... There is now a chance for readers themselves to be purveyors of literary taste and to influence what is popular.... The same way it has always worked: word of mouth. Readers telling other readers what they loved and why. ...give the power back to the readers."

December 17, 2012

I would define "Post-Gutenberg" as those digital changes in the techne of the culture and publishing that open up the relationship between writers and readers to a wider level than ever before experienced in history, enabling a much more direct communication, without or with fewer interfering middlemen and encumbrances, and frequently permitting dialogue to flow in both directions.

October 23, 2012

See my many posts on my blog, The Globe, under the category eReading, especially, All Is Not Vanity: The rise of literary self-publishing, reacting to an article on the Literary Review of Canada.

August 14, 2011

My comments posted on Rise of E-books Will Benefit One Group: Readers  

Finally, an article on ebooks that really gets it!

Ebooks are about what's good for readers... and, I would add, what's good for writers. The publishing middlemen are the ones who have gotten in the way for centuries, manipulating who receives a hearing and who doesn't, essentially depriving readers of diverse voices and perspectives. Ebooks provide the means for writers to communicate directly with readers, making the reader the real judge of what's worth reading and what's not.

“'E-books make the Gutenberg system, which still characterizes the industry after 500 years, absolutely obsolete,' insists Jacob Epstein, the veteran publisher who invented trade paperbacks and founded the New York Review of Books." ...and he's the creator of the Espresso Book Machine, coming perhaps before long to a revamped bookstore near you... Stage II of the Post-Gutenberg Revolution...

“E-publishing radically decentralizes the marketplace,” Epstein says. “You’re talking about every book ever written being stored at virtually no cost and delivered instantly on demand. Stores and even publishers are going to have to reinvent themselves.” His EBM already includes the entire database of Ingram's Lightning Source and much of Google, which means virtually every book in print or ever published.

"But they could set up their own websites and eliminate the middlemen." Also part of the new configuration, through Ingram's LSI and online vendors: Printed and eBooks Available Worldwide,

Other choice quotations worth reflecting on:

“There is a massive change in this business due to e-book technology,” says Mitch Kaplan, owner of the Coral Gables, Fla.-based Books & Books mini-chain. “And it’s happened faster than I could ever have imagined. A couple of years ago, e-books were maybe 2 percent of the business. Now we think it will be 25 percent by the end of the year, and there’s no end in sight yet.”

"It was only in 2007, after the launch of the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader — both of which used a new technology known as e-ink to give their text a more booklike appearance — that consumers really got on board. Sales of e-books rocketed more than 1,000 percent over the next four years, from about $32 million in 2006 to $441 million in 2010, and are expected to top the $1 billion mark this year."

November 27, 2010

Literary Writers in a Post-Gutenberg Age of Self-Archiving and Self-Publishing

For years I’ve been occasionally reading Stevan Harnad’s articles on the Internet about “Open Access,” the archiving of peer-reviewed, scientific scholarly writing online for free access by other academics and researchers, starting with his “Post-Gutenberg Galaxy" of 1991. While I found his ideas compelling, he repeatedly states that his thinking isn’t applicable to other types of writing but only that which is published in refereed scholarly journals, not written for trade, but for impact as shared research with colleagues. I tended to accept his conclusion, though wondered if it might not apply somehow to poets and literary writers, literature more broadly. When a new article by him would pop-up through a Google search or alert for Post-Gutenberg, I would read or skim it, finding it interesting, but think there’s not much I can do with him. Even he says so.

Then I read a piece by Lawrence Lessig in The Huffington Post, “An Obvious Distinction,” arguing “‘open-source’ is a practice that rests explicitly upon a respect for copyright.” That’s what I needed to hear. “The free choice of copyright owners to waive some portion of their copyright is not a rejection of copyright.” It helped me realize that that is exactly what I and other writers have been doing for years and a missing piece of the puzzle in my own struggle for understanding the new dynamics of publishing, Post-Gutenberg and otherwise. I've "archived" a selection of my poems and essays on my website since 1998 and on my blogs from the start. I view my POD books and ebooks as part of the same drive to reach a worldwide readership, conveying the fullness of what W. B. Yeats called A Vision only through my books. In other words, people can evaluate my writing in an Open Access form and decide if they're interested enough in my work to buy my books. Ebooks and POD make the distribution global and at a fair price, by cutting significantly the traditional overhead of the middlemen, publishers, printing, distribution, and brick and mortar stores.

Shortly after reading Lessig, I noticed an article by Alan Rusbridger, a reporter for The Guardian in the UK, “The splintering of the fourth estate.” Rusbridger notes that "the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative." He cites the notion that traditional news publishing was “transmission,” while the social networking of Web 2.0 has enabled “communication” in both directions, from writer to reader, reader to writer, more “personal,” and so on. While his focus is on newspapers moving online, much of what he says is also applicable to literary writers. The ability to "friend" people around the world and communicate with them, on a person to person level, without politics and all the divisive issues always in the way is incredibly "transformative." It opens up new possibilities in human consciousness, for understanding and cooperation, toward peace and the resolution of our many problems, at a time when we all need desperately to move together up the evolutionary chain of the species.

I especially appreciate Rusbridger’s mention of Stowe Boyd, who comments on social networking in the following paragraph:

“I think that the rise of the social web, just like writing, the printing press, and the invention of money, is not really about the the end of what came before, but instead is the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies. These technologies are a bridge we use to cross over into something new, not a wrecking ball tearing down the old.”

Writers and readers alike, readers become writers, communication flowing both ways, we are all on an electronic ride across that bridge into the future, global as the network of human consciousness itself, evolving now on global social networks as never before, toward the transformation of the entire political and economic systems that now dominate the globe.

Below and elsewhere on my website for further details.

October 14, 2010

Regarding Apocalypse in Print, Huffington Post.

I'm glad to know the corporate publishers are starting to get the message and are suffering from "vauge hysteria." They should be.

I think you're much too negative about the prospects for writers. Far from bleak, the collapse of the corporate monopoly on publishing is a tremendously promising development, already well advanced, with no escape for the money grubbers of New York and elsewhere. And it bodes well for a resurgence of intellectual energy and free speech, as well as a truly global market for the writers who master the necessary skills.

"Scale" now belongs to the writer... That's the Post-Gutenberg fact...

Re-thinking the roles of agents and publishers? The entire culture will be much better off when most of them bite the dust and a true marketplace of ideas flourishes and competes for the reader.

My point isn't for writers to send me their manuscripts... It's to realize that they can publish and market their own books worldwide, directly to the reader, for a very nominal investment, mostly of time, by merely using the technologies that already exist. Doing that is only going to become easier.

I'm offering my ebook site as a model of one writer's effort, groping forward...

Cut the Publishers. Here's how.
Time for publishing to change. Tell your friends... 
Earthrise Press® eBooks 

The vast majority of discussion about Post-Gutenberg publishing has been apocalyptic in tone and has and is attempting to transfer the monopoly of the mega-publishers to the Internet. That's entirely wrong in my opinion. There's every reason TO CELEBRATE the Post-Gutenberg Revolution...

One reader wrote, "PR-driven celebrity authors. That's what I call vanity publishing," which is an excellent point with which I agree. That's exactly what the mega-publishers have been doing for decades, increasingly with the talking-head schlock they fob off as worth the time of the reading public, for which such publishers have no respect and no sense of duty and calling of the true publisher and writer.

The mega corporate publisher's propaganda basically deceives the public about its supposedly special ability to identify and promote the most worthwhile authors, in order to create and maintain a stranglehold on who receives a hearing in the public forum. That has long been a major cultural problem in addressing the dilemmas and conflicts of our time. The Post-Gutenberg Revolution is sweeping aside the mega-publishers for very good reasons.

Many people, even in literature and poetry circles, and the universities, don't know what to think of a book unless someone "authoritative" tells them. The broad, liberal humanism of modernity was supposed to remedy that dilemma, but it hasn't and can't. Modernity has only created its own meta-myths that have become oppressive in their own turn, suffusing culture, including publishing, journalism, and the media, as well as other echelons of thought. The problem is perennial to human development, through antinomies, the deep tensions and struggles of the soul.

Writers and poets are NOT going to stop writing. I believe more will learn how to take *control* of their writing. Read the names of self-publishers at the following link. They weren't the least bit ashamed about it. Why should any writer be so today?

Most writers have apparently been content to wait around for someone else to decide their fate. Kindle, Sony, etc., are all attempting to create an alternative to the traditional publishing house but notice everyone of them is in the best interest of their company, not necessarily writers and readers. To be fair, 50/50 splits and more on the royalties are way beyond 12/88%. James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain, and others, amassed real fortunes through self-publishing. Their percentage of the royalties had to be much closer to what the digital age makes possible.

The question is why do most writers accept the NY mega-publishers' self-serving propaganda? Why do so many readers?

Whether readers or writers, someone else is doing the thinking. Think of literary and cultural history. "Authoritative"? How did church "authority" regard Voltaire, Balye, and Diderot? What did the "authorities" think of Blake? The Calvinists of Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson? Nietzsche? Etc., etc... Literary history constitutes the story of one stultifying convention or vision of life, one after another, fancying itself otherwise. Our time is no different... it only preens and flatters itself as having the meta-narrative of Truth.

The corporations that have largely taken over publishing during the last few decades function in a highly similar fashion. In a sense, the gauntlet thrown down by writers before "authorities" remains perennially about the same, in terms of structual dynamics, while the majority of "readers" are, I can imagine a poete maudit saying, "cattle." The challenge is always before readers, whom Stendhal called the "lucky few." It's well known that writers have always promoted their own work, had to, more so even now. Czeslaw Milosz is a good example of that, more than many realize.

According to the statistics of corporate publishing itself, ebooks are already 3 to 5 perhaps 6% or more of all books sold.

The traditional publishers have long been bankrupt. Forget 'em. They amount to nothing... It's the *reader* who counts. Real writers are willing to compete for readers by striving to write something worthy of them, whatever the genre or form may be.

The digital, post-Gutenberg Revolution essentially has evolved the tools for the independent writer to go "viral," as a result of the natural selection process of readers. It's already begun. We've already entered a new age. Far from bemoaning it, charge forward. Don't let the nay-sayers deter you.

June 25, 2010. A response to "Big publishers have reason to be happy about how the book market is evolving." Publishing Consultant, Mike Shatzkin's blog, The Idea Logical

My definition of what constitutes a post-Gutenberg publisher is non-DRM.

The relevant model is shareware... by not worrying about selling every book, giving a percentage away, sometimes a large percentage, developers or publishers receive, in return, relatively free advertising and often global BUZZ. Many shareware companies make million-dollar profits on a conversion ratio of as little as 1% to 6%, retaining control of their product with a very low overhead. Shareware has been the Internet model for decades and is entirely rational for the individual writer, though it's very difficult for writers and publishers to understand.

Why should writers worry about corporate publishers? Writers have been exploited by them for centuries. Cut the publishers... It's time for publishing to change.

It seems to me most of your reflections are concerned with what's good for the publishers and geared to helping them move their monopolies to the Internet. As a poet, I'm concerned with what's best for writers and readers and believe publishers have stopped serving the best interests of the culture. It's long been observed that corporate conglomerates do very little to promote a book, and over the decades have come to do less and less for the author, especially in some genres.

For the most part, the books that receive an advance have increasingly become the popular fiction and non-fiction and talking-head tripe, much of it ghost-written, that largely betrays and undermines the culture in favor of shareholders, doing little to nothing for real writers, literature, or the civilization, eroding it for the most part. In the Post-Gutenberg Age, most writers who are taking the deceptive carrot of an advance ought to think twice and do the math.

The entire thrust of the digital revolution has been towards greater freedom and independence of the individual from oppressive control of one kind or another. As self-appointed gatekeepers, corporate publishing conglomerates merit only to be swept into the dustbin of history, following the music industry, film photography, print newspapers, and similar dinosaurs.

The Internet, POD, Jason Epstein's Espresso Book Machine, ebooks and other developments have already demonstrated during the last decade that marketing and distribution channels no longer reside with publishing conglomerates, who really have ceased serving authors and books, and have become an impediment to the advance of culture. The individual author no longer needs the traditional publisher.

Your examples of "vertical" communities, based on shared interests, have and are bound to take many forms. You’re right that it seems to be happening much faster than many publishers realize.

I think, with time, many writers are going to come to the realization that I have. The technology now exists to market and sell one's own books, both POD and ebooks, directly to the entire world through Lightning Source and one's own website and aggregate online stores.

For a very small monetary investment, any writer with moderate technical computer ability, can go around all of the traditional publishers, marketing and selling to the entire world, not just the USA. The ebook market is truly global. That’s what’s so fascinating about it to me. Facebook and other social networking make reaching that global market possible.

I have to disagree with your evaluation of traditional publishers and what publishing with them amounts to. I think you’re underestimating how much change has already taken place and how little the traditional publishers of poetry and literature in the United States actually have to offer. Compared to self-publishing, there are no decent contracts with traditional publishers. They’re not capable of recognizing or promoting anything really new and significant in literature. They’re a large part of the reason that a very dead and decadent literary period continues to drag along.

The Post-Gutenberg Revolution provides the means to go around all of them... and reach readers throughout the entire globe.

I agree that not all writers have the ability nor desire to handle the technical issues involved with web sites, html, ebook formats, marketing, and other such things. Given the wide range of human ability, there will remain a place for many of the intermediaries (predators, in some cases) who have forever made a living off writers and self-publishers of various quality. As you realize, they’re been making the transition to the Internet for more than a decade with POD and now Smashwords and many other venues.

I would say, though, all of those issues are much easier than writers who feel intimidated by them realize. For instance, there are only about a dozen html codes one has to learn to transfer a manuscript into an ePub or Kindle book. Anyone who has already put a web site together won’t find it difficult. Most who can use a wordprocessor and html editor have the skills. Publishers would be mistaken if they allowed themselves to think there are major technical hurdles that are going to save them.

As examples accumulate of writers who have put it all together, in addition to the prerequisite of being real writers, fewer and fewer writers will turn to the traditional publishers. They simply don’t have anything to offer. They betrayed whatever credibility they ever had long ago. Jason Epstein’s Book Business is only one notable work that muses on the deeper issues at the core of publishing’s problems. They’re also intimately connected with all the problems of higher education and the cultural angst of modernity. Most of the current corporate publishers and mergers have only been around for some decades and mark a definite decline, in their own way, for publishing and culture. For the most part, recovery and renewal lies not through them, but around them. In diminished forms, most of them will probably linger on for some time, but the writer is better served by a contract directly with Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble eBooks, Lightning Source, and other quality vendors, and selling his or her books directly to readers, which will become ever-more commonly done.

I don’t believe “building a community one writer at a time” is applicable to what I’m suggesting. It seems to me your “vertical” only applies to the kind of general non-fiction, run-of-the-mill kind of thing that publishing has become for most of the culture. What books the new online ebook publishers and vendors are choosing to place on the home page of their sites is not an encouraging sign for our culture; indeed, it bodes ill, demonstrating that the corporate mentality has no sense of the social obligations that publishing at its best was and should really be about and entail. They are not book people. They are not people concerned with culture. They're destroying it. They're standing in the way of real change. For the good of the culture, it's time to get rid of them.

I’m more interested in reaching the audience that Saul Bellow was fond of reminding people actually existed and which continues to exist, awaiting always the writers and books that will help it move to a higher level. The roughly 50,000 to 100,000 and more college educated people interested in and capable of understanding serious cultural and literary issues, discussion, poetry and literature, as in the case of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, global issues now... I believe that kind of success can now be done without the mega New York publishers, despite them, since they really stand with the universities in opposing anything beyond their own limited and defective sense of what should be published, what’s possible.

Far from publishers having a "reason to be happy about how the book market is evolving," Mike Shatzkin's claim demonstrates that neither he nor they really understand that the dynamics involved embrace the entire world culture, of which they are only one small part, guaranteeing that the day approaches when they, too, like the music oligarchs, will be swept aside with the fiber-optic speed of the up-loaded gigabytes of the Post-Gutenberg Revolution.

May 31, 2010. I have become increasingly interested in and absorbed by the philosophical and social implications of the Post-Gutenberg Age, not only in terms of publishing itself, but also at the much deeper level of the global implications, as we move forward. The drive of intellect, soul even I would say, is fullness of Being, into what that means for our transformative age, from the long perspective of history.

Jason Epstein, Publishing: The Revolutionary Future. NYRB. March 11, 2010

I agree with most of Epstein’s overall perspective on the vast changes that are and will take place both in publishing and our culture. We can only speculate on many of them at this early stage. His limitations are those of a traditional publisher, yet he’s one who has been central to developing the Espresso Book Machine which promises to go far beyond traditional publishing.

I’m puzzled by Epstein’s comment that "fiction is almost never collaborative." When was it ever? I can’t think of a single book of real fiction or poetry, of the first order, in any culture, that was "collaborative." What would it be? Maybe some of the old early epics, Gilgamesh, as he alludes to, very rare. Even it, in the end, as known to us now, was the work of one great master, Sin-leqi-unninni, who worked the older myths into a comprehensive vision, like Shakespeare. Otherwise, a contradiction in terms...

Despite that caveat, I think it’s fair to say Epstein has his finger on the pulse of the Post-Gutenberg revolution more than most publishers, though I think he’s vastly undervaluing ebooks, though it’s understandable, since he’s placed all his chips on the Espresso Book Machine. I should disclose I’m slightly biased in his favor since I have three books available through the Espresso Book Machine.

In response to Epstein’s article, one blogger has interestingly observed, "Physical books are the author’s equivalent of musician’s concerts." I think writers and publishers ought to reflect deeply on that possibility. It may be that paper books ultimately prove to be the equivalent of "vinyl."

I believe eBooks will definitely take over a significant portion of the market-share of traditional publishing, and even eventually surpass POD and the Espresso Book Machine, both of which will continue to grow and serve their segments of the book market. EBooks solve all the printing and distribution problems of publishing. Most importantly, eBooks solve all the problems confronting the writer and the reader. I’m not interested in solving problems for the mega-corporate publishers; they are the problem. The sooner writers and readers can largely get rid of them, and their interference in who and what can potentially receive a hearing from readers, the better. It's the reader who should be judging who and what is worth reading. Not the gatekeepers. The Digital Age offers the individual an exciting challenge.

The tradtional "authorities" in publishing and culture have all revealed themselves as hollow and discredited. Democracy and the expansion of the freedom and liberty of the individual wants to move to the next level, the globe... Communication, information and dialog, aesthetic and literary expression, all are pushing forward to the widest scope and vista of freedom, the earth itself. The throbbing, digital Network has laid down the fiber-optic cable and the Wifi, along with the new resources of Web 2.0, so that it can happen. Ultimately, the cultural shift will produce and necessitate a practical, politcal one. The underdeveloped United Nations is its forerunner. Perhaps, first the culture, and then the politicians will have no alternative but to follow the people, or be left behind. That is the deepest implication of the Post-Gutenberg Age, the further evolution of global consciousness, a global ethic and culture, finding form, ultimately, in a political union seving all humanity.

I printed Epstein’s article to PDF and read it on my Sony Reader, already stocked with over 2,800 books and articles... My 4 and 8 gigabyte cards have room for several thousand more books. I'm currently working on getting all my books into ePub, Kindle, and other formats.

Afterthoughts. As shocking as it may sound, the "shareware" model, which has now been around for probably thirty years with computer software, may actually have discovered early on one of the crucial ways of distribution for books in the Digital Age, going "viral," and the pricing that makes sense when the middlemen and their "overhead" are cut out for the benefit of the writer and the reader.

Clay Shirkey, The Collapse of Complex Business Models - Think, New York mega-publishers and those literary magazines, institutions, and academicians who have a stake in and promote the long-decaying, collapsing vision. Incidentally, Clay Shirkey is wrong about needing new filters; the Post-Gutenberg Age is about getting *rid* of filters, while demanding that the individual becomes more responsible in the exercise of his or her freedom. The filter becomes the reading community itself, the analog being the body politic.

December 9, 2009. Revised from my Facebook page

The democratization and decentralization of the Internet and Post-Gutenberg Age are the greatest challenge to the old model of publishing.

Regarding the article, "Some half-formed thoughts on one future for bookselling" on Boing Boing:
Print on Demand • POD • Lightning Source • bookselling • publishing • ebooks • Espresso Book Machine • EBM

It’s the opening up of access to knowledge and information, communication broadly, that’s taking place. The Gutenberg means of production, if you will, aided the king and his minions to maintain a tight control over what received a hearing.

I’ve been thinking about the transformation of publishing for more than a decade and working hard, as an independent writer, to figure out how to make the Internet work for me as a writer, not the conglomerates and gatekeepers. "Librarybob," in the comments on the article, makes some fascinating connections that I want to respond to, especially this question:

"What happens to the great author who just can’t work a social network?"

One word: Facebook—over 350 million people, and similar social networking sites—a worldwide market, serviced by Lightning Source, EBM, ebooks, etc., helping to identify and reach people with similar literary and intellectual interests. No gatekeepers and manipulators in between, e.g., academicians, ALA, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews (now justly defunct). Publishers Weekly is part of the old model. I’ve thought at times that something like LibraryThing would help, but they’re still clinging to the old model as well, in my view, to date. The major publishers are clearly trying to transfer their monoplies to the Internet, to acquire "eyeballs," as Mike Shatzkin, the publishing consultant has said.

I agree with librarybob that

"booksellers and librarians need to develop new ways, new online ways, to obtain and review titles so we can purchase them and make them known to the public."

But again, it’s the democratization and decentralization of the Internet and Post-Gutenberg Age that is the greatest challenge to the old model. The booksellers and librarians, as much as half-hearted, LibraryThing approaches, aren’t yet recognizing that enough.

The entrenched schools of thought are obsessed with controlling and manipulating what people can find available to read. They share that impulse in common. That impulse runs very deep in human nature. I’ve always known that and recognized it as one of the fundamental problems for an independent writer and publisher to have to deal with, but this discussion has opened it up much more to view—and the extent to which it is really still running counter to the entire direction of the Post-Gutenberg Age; indeed, contrary even, in a sense, though they’d deny it, to the entire modern democratic age or global revolution, which, for centuries, has been about expanding and protecting the liberty and freedom of the individual.

Think about it. They’re running scared. Their pitiful dirge, how do we remain in control? They believe they know and can identify what people should read. What’s good for the little people. Hubris. Arrogance. The whole system of the major publishers, academics, and librarians, scratching one another’s back, is coming to an end, changed by the new forms of social networking made possible by the Internet. Generations of exploited writers are exulting in their graves.

To the extent that Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony Reader, Kobo, and other devices are attempts to corner the ebook market through their online stores, I believe the merchants and devices that will recognize and allow individual freedom of choice will win out in the long run. The ePub format opens the way for the majority of books to reach the global marketplace and reader. All the software and requisite tools and venues now seem to be in place, or coming soon, for the Post-Gutenberg Revolution to burst fully onto the world stage, with most books being published as ebooks before long. It’s an exciting time to be a writer and publisher. I discuss ereaders on my blog, eReading (all moved now to The Globe).

15 June 2009. Here’s another highly informative article, "Booking the Future" by Ransom Stephens

The author may be more interested in the technical changes that have been and are taking place, print-on-demand, ebooks, and Jason Epstein’s Espresso Book Machine. But most serious writers have not sufficiently engaged with the implications of those changes, which are already here or coming, ready or not, as he argues. Far from a technician and a reason for reflection, Epstein saw it coming a long time ago and moved on to develop the next paradigm. People located at all the other bastions of the worn-out Gutenberg model have also either resisted or misunderstood the implications of change—long on moaning and groaning about it, and short on any visionary excitement about the new, possible future, around the globe, not just in the USA, for writers and readers—anyone remember them? Note well, readers and writers are not interested in what’s best for the manipulators and gatekeepers of the marketplace.

Ransom Stephens, offers some very interesting revelations on all this change, and worth reflecting on:

"Publishers’ role as the gatekeepers of quality has always been dubious... the only thing maintaining publishing’s quality-control role is the carefully manicured perception that self-publishing is anathema to aspiring professional authors. Publishing, through its marketing plans and budgets, today effectively controls who sees what book. But the grip of the industry’s role of gatekeeper is about to go."

Anyone truly literate and involved in writing and publishing knows all that is irrefutably the truth. The trash that has always come out of the major publishers is appalling. During the last twenty years or more publishing has failed literature and culture in every conceivable way, for all the well-known reasons I shan’t repeat. Suffice it to say that derision of self-publishing flies in the face of literary history. Almost every literary writer worth reading had to publish their own work in order to receive a hearing! Writers should vehemently reject the self-serving deceit and contumely that the major publishers use to exploit and steal from them the profit of their own labor. Again, here’s an incomplete list of many of the writers by name, who had brains in their head, some of whom amassed significant fortunes from their own work, for themselves and their families, instead of handing it over to contemptibly illiterate corporate conglomerates and their venal board members and stockholders:

Given the history of publishers and reviewers throughout literary history, their almost universal failure to recognize what is new and worthwhile, it’s hard to understand why any thoughtful reader would look to either. It’s the readers who should be deciding who is worth reading, not self-appointed publishers, librarians, and corrupt review magazines and journals like Kirkus Review, Booklist, Library Journal, et al., stunted and blinded by their servile obeisance to their own ruling ideologies and assumptions—hackneyed tastes. Throughout the literary history of all nations, coteries have always developed, and they always seek to maintain their vision of life long past its day, as is the case now with postmodernism. The mediocre cluster in groups, journals, reviews, to prop up one another. Only the corrupt academy with all its attendant strangleholds on literary and intellectual life have enabled postmodernism to drag on for so long, seeping into every level of modern society.

I’m for exploring the possibilities beyond the rigidities of the entrenched worldviews that limit the individual writer, keeping the entrenched alive, on life-support, as it were. I stopped looking to the major publishers for anything new in serious literary writing long ago and think many perceptive people have. They’re not interested in creative, serious writing, poetry or fiction, but what will sell, as is well known, the crudest, most intellectually shallow works of non-fiction and other pablum. I argue that there is now a chance that writers might *really* get paid for their work by taking control of it, taking it back from the illiterate corporate conglomerates who have no respect for serious literary and intellectual work:

Online reviewing has yet to develop sufficient alternatives that are intellectually engaging and enriching, but things are improving, as everything moves to the Internet, and the thrill of freedom awakens the oppressed and the gifted. The traditional venues of review have long been atrophied, entrenched, while human experience has continued to evolve, which the old rags have blithely ignored, trapped in the already-written. The "established" reviews all in various ways have failed to keep up, stuck in their ruts, political, religious, or whatever, narrow assumptions, seeking to repeat literary history, imagining otherwise. By contrast, just dumping any heap of words into Lulu, Xlibris, etc., does not equal literature worth reading, though I would advise any serious writer to go directly to Lightning Source and cut out the new online middleman as much as possible.

I have at times wondered if reviews are really as important as traditionally conceived. Such social networking sites as Facebook might add an interesting new component to the online mix, a new way for serious writers, with a demanding vision, to find the reader at a similar level. Yet nothing can replace an extended piece of prose, on or off line, by an intelligent and thoughtful reviewer, a rarity in any medium. The problem is always that most reviewers are tied to the old paradigm, can’t see beyond it, continue to think in its terms. Similarly, much of the academy spurned literature long ago for "theory" and other philosphical and literary deadends, replicating the past through its MFA programs, which channel more-of-the-same to the "established" publishers.

"Book the Future" makes this insightful point about the major publishers, one which young writers ought especially to reflect on long and hard:

"Your only hope to build a dynasty is to sign the stars to multiple book contracts before they know they’re stars."

That is, lock writers into contracts while they’re young and dumb, which eventually will serve to rip them off of the big money should anything they ever suffer and endure long enough to write really succeed with readers. Or throw them an advance; they usually fall for it. Wake up! "Writers of the world, unite!" Don’t just give your work to the conglomerates, even the so-called radical, supposedly avant-garde... Readers now can and will find it, share it with their friends... buzz is now electronic, a global social network, a cloud, a thriving hive.

I also want to bring together with my thoughts above a related post I made in 2007 on publishing, on the now defunct UK blog, Grumpy Old Bookman.

16 October, 2007

Dear Mr. Grumpy Old Bookman,

I’ve enjoyed reading your blog since early summer and would like to comment on your post about "Publishing is a very friendly business" and Andrew Franklin’s article on PDF.

It seems to me the real message or lesson is Jason Epstein’s:

Writers and publishers who still fail to get that message are living with their heads in the sand, ignoring what’s already happened in the music industry and is beginning to happen in publishing.

"As mentioned here once or twice recently, this agency has fallen into the hands of the money men, who simply do not understand the ethos of publishing. Consequently agents and clients are fleeing in all directions."

Many writers are fleeing to POD, while waiting for Jason Epstein to work out the bugs, physically just as good a product as anything else, only to improve, and regularly used by the mega-publishers themselves, through Ingram’s Lightning Source and others.

"But where do books come from, whether chosen for literary merit and general worthiness, or for their ability to sell in large numbers? Answer, they come from writers and agents."

Any writer who doesn’t begin to try to figure out a way to get rid of as many of the middlemen as possible is a fool as far as I’m concerned: 55%, returnable copies stocking other’s shelves, 12% pittance, etc., all has to change.Ultimately, it is the writer who has got the goods... and only the writer who can create the goods. That is what writers and poets need to remember. And then act on it.

The illiterates who have taken over for their stockholders need a very serious wake-up call, here in the USA, as there in the UK, by the sound of it, I’d say, as has recently happened with music (Radiohead). Now it’s publishing’s turn to change.

A bookstore that has perhaps figured out the new model:

Gutenberg Redux, Part II: Vermont Gets Another Espresso Book Machine

From The Poetry Foundation report, "Technology: Poetry and New Media." January 2009.
"Frederick Glaysher, the founder of Earthrise Press, is a dynamic presence among the advocates of self-publishing
and adopting the independent music model of direct purchase from artist to consumer."[search > Glaysher]

The Mission of Earthrise Press

Cut the publishers. Time for publishing to change. Here's how. Tell your friends...
Order Online Direct from the Author or your preferred online Bookseller