A defense of dictatorship

A former gatekeeper laments the publishing revolution:

The idea of writers being able to bring their creations directly to readers is widely touted as a radical advance in authorial control and a revolution in the creative process. Its popularity has soared and its champions, such as the writer and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross, proclaim it as something “radical, really revolutionary within my world”.. Self-publishing is the revolution du jour, the change that will liberate writers and democratise publishing.

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.

Self-publishing is supposed to democratise publishing. For Nicholas Lovell, writing in the Bookseller, “publishers no longer have an ability to determine which books get published and which books don’t.” In other words, democratisation is nothing more than the expansion of the publishing process from the few to the many. But this 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.

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. 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. With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.

Gatekeepers are liberators! The freedom of the market is tyranny! War is peace! Black is white! Evil is good!

These people lie as automatically as they breathe. How absurd is it to say that traditional publishing is not as restricted as it appears because “every writer can submit a manuscript”? This article didn’t convince me that self-publishing is a bad thing, it convinced me that in addition to being outdated, the traditional publishers are outright evil.

The ironic icing on the cake is the fact that the author, a former publisher, “has self-published his last three novels”. His best-selling book ranks #700,264 on Amazon. Little wonder he despises “the tyranny of the market”.