Back in the days before the internet, on-line selling, blogs and cheap foreign book printing the world of publication was a lot simpler. The creators (writer, artist, musician, cartoonist, etc.) submitted their work to a publisher. The publisher decided if it was worthy of publication, then did the editing, promotion, printing, distribution and collection of the money. The creator got their royalties (often after an advance on the royalties first) and the publisher kept the rest. The publisher was the middleman with a hammer… they wielded the power to decide what got published, how it was edited and how it was promoted. “Vanity Press”, or the self publishing of one’s own work, was the disreputable, red-headed stepchild of the publishing world… what one resorted to when no “real” publisher would accept their work.
The internet is changing all that, with the simple ability to put the creators in direct contact with the consumer in three fundamental ways: promotion, sales and publication/delivery of their work. This story from The Globe and Mail speaks specifically about how the internet and eBooks are changing the face of the traditional publishing model, but the same revolution is happening in every area of creative work. Today an artist can do their work, promote it, market it, publish it and sell it all from their kitchen table and cut the traditional publisher completely out of the picture. Self publishing one’s work no longer carries the stigma of being the last resort of substandard work. Creators are realizing that they do not need the overhead or approval of a publisher to sell their work to the masses. Inexpensive but high quality printing of books and magazines can be done through overseas printers and via electronic files, or the work can be published directly on the web and “monetized” through the sales of merchandise and printed collections as well as on-line advertising. The only real obstacle in the way of a full disengagement from the traditional publishing model is the inclusion of such works in brick and mortar stores (bookstores, Wal-Mart, etc)… which are increasingly becoming less and less the dominant place to buy books, music, etc.
The usual gripes by old school creators apply: “Anybody can publish a book now. Being published isn’t a sign of success or quality. There is no quality control.” To a certain extent this is true. Nearly every kind of creative work that once was only presented to the world through agents like publishers, syndicates, record labels and movie studios/networks can now be self published. Anyone with a little money, a desktop computer and some time to do the research can publish their work in a form basically indistinguishable from big-name publishing. Unlike just a few years ago, self publishing is¬¨‚Ä† more a choice than it is a necessity for creators. Choosing to go the self publishing route no longer means one’s work isn’t just as publication ready as the stuff put out by established publishing houses. Some really great work is being self published these days… and in a format that is just as professionally done as any released by well known publishing houses.
The thinking behind publishing itself has to change. The old idea that just to have a book/comic/record etc. in print means the creator who’s name is on it does great work is no longer valid. Instead it’s the marketplace that will decide whether the content offered is worthwhile or not. The power to make the decision as to what is worth spending money on is being taken out of the hands of a third party agent/publisher and put directly into the hands of those who consume the work, i.e. the buying public. It’s possible for small press publishers to make a reasonable living publishing their own work in books, DVDs, etc. without their publications ever seeing the inside of¬¨‚Ä† Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, Border’s, etc. In fact where creators needed to sell large numbers of their published works under the old publishing model in order to realize enough money in royalties to make a decent profit from their efforts, self published and self marketed work need only sell a fraction of those amounts to realize the same kinds of profits. You don’t need to sell 100,000 books to eek out a living when you aren’t giving most of the profit to a publishing house.
This week will be the comic art industry’s biggest showcase of this publishing revolution: the San Diego Comic Con. Ten years ago the “Artist’s Alley” spaces at Comic-Con was full of mainstream artists selling original comic art and doing sketches and “small press” comics creators selling cheap ashcan printed underground comics. These days both Artist’s Alley and many of the main floor’s spaces are filled with creators selling beautiful hardcovers or slick perfect bound books full of their work, sketches, illustrations and cartooning, how-to DVDs or high quality comics and graphic novels that are essentially “self published” work…. if that term even really applies anymore. In many cases the creators have no major credits outside of their own books and publications. That is no longer an indication of the quality of the work offered. As this type of publication model becomes more and more prevalent the competition for consumer dollars will become more fierce and the marketplace will decide what becomes successful and what does not.
It really is becoming a different world in the publication industry. It’s certainly exciting for both the consumer and the creator. The former will have access to an unprecedented variety of creative works, while the latter will be afforded the opportunity to get their work out in front of the public when previously they had to hope some third party deemed their work worthy of such a release. That’s ultimately going to be a great thing for the culture of art and creativity.
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