The Downside of the Democratizing of Publishing Books

January 17th, 2014

I remember hearing, more years ago than I care to admit to, that “The power of the press belongs to those who own the press.” Or perhaps own a press.

I imagine the line referred more to journalism, rather than book publishing. And yet there was obviously a little something to it. Maybe not so much in physically owning a printing press, as it turns out, but in having the means to publish one’s own books. Self-publishing, I think it us safe to say, has caught on.

Of course, as with anything that becomes popular, there is always the possibility of a diluting of the talent pool and the resulting product, if you will. I saw it as a kid, watching Major League Baseball expand first from sixteen teams, to twenty, then twenty-four, and beyond.

Well, as traditional publishers struggle to stay alive, self-publishing authors, free of the yoke of corporate gatekeepers’ desire to publish only books that follow some formula that sells beaucoup copies and makes big money. The problem that results from all this freedom from the tyranny of traditional publishing is that too many people get into self-publishing not realizing they have gone into business  as publishers. Even if just one time for their one book.

All the fine touches that traditional publishing companies provided—professional editing, design, typesetting, and pagemaking—often fall by the wayside, as this new breed of publishers make book publishing seem more like a do-it-yourself project taken on just to prove how inexpensively they can birth books. The professionals who heretofore made books no longer have quite the hand that they did in making books an art form, independent of what is inside the covers.

The other day I was contacted by another in a line of authors who plan to self-publish on a shoestring. This writer may not understand that his bankroll is nowhere near enough to create the enterprise that his book should be. And I am beginning to question how to answer the next design student who contacts me for advice about her prospects in the field of book design.

Entry Filed under: finding work,freelancing,self-publishing,the business of freelancing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Landi  |  December 18th, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Hi Stephen… I came across your Facebook profile and decided to check out what you do. I get what you’re saying about the future that this industry might be facing. It’s a little intimidating to think that something you’ve spent years studying and developing a skill in, is now open for anyone to jump in to and, basically, destroy. Keep up the good work though, you’ve inspired me to keep pushing into becoming a freelancer. Even though a solid salary is a welcome comfort zone, it doesn’t always challenge you. Have a blessed Christmas holiday and I hope 2015 brings you a lot of success.

    Warm regards

    Landi Reyneke

  • 2. admin  |  December 18th, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Hullo Landi,

    Happy Holidays! And thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully, we’ll get back on track and 2015 will be a better, busier year than 2014. After a few really good years in a row, 2014 was a bit of a disappointment, down to a REALLY big project that turned out to be a mirage. So I’m ready for things to improve.

    I feel your concern about the uncertainty about a career you’ve trained for. I’ve always freelanced with a net–a secure, full-time day-job in an unrelated field–so, although I feel the uncertainty, I don’t have the stress of living and dying with my freelance income. But, just the same, I’ve come to factor the work into my lifestyle, both from how making books makes me feel and from how I’ve come to regard the income as part of my regular deal and no longer “extra”.

    Good luck to you in 2015!

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