Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Rewards -- and Dangers -- of Internet Publishing

In his book "Here Comes Everybody," Clay Shirky makes it a point to say that with the Internet, the question of whether to publish something has transformed from "Why publish this?" to "Why not?" This is supposed to be a liberation of the realm of publishing from the bottlenecks and gatekeepers of traditional publishing, opening up the world to anyone with a website and a message to send out.

That's good, right?

It has a serious drawback: It opens up the world to anyone with a website and a message to send out.

Now getting published means one of two things: Getting published in the traditional sense, as in via some kind of entity with editing and quality controls and a method for paying the producer a little bit of money for the trouble, or the kind of publishing you're not reading on this blog now since this blog has a worldwide audience but NOBODY is coming here.

My gosh, what a choice.

It's liberating, yes, to realize that there are so few gatekeepers and bottlenecks between me and my audience. It's disheartening, however, to realize that, as of right now, my audience doesn't exist. And you know what, now that everyone can publish, the traditional publishing houses that give you money rather than fifteen picoseconds of Internet fame, they're trolling Oh yeah, they're trolling. But if you don't have a built-in audience now -- one you've had to work for, of course, through your labors -- they won't touch you. The playing field hasn't been leveled, it's just been digitized.

Not that we shouldn't have audiences we hand-build. That's the great advantage of the Internet age. But to "get published" in the traditional sense, you'd better have a hot commodity and the audience to back it up. You can't just have a good book now -- it seems you've got to have a following. It's like the publishing houses have seen the light and realize that maybe they can save a little money by choosing commodities from the flotsam of the Internet that already have a following so they've got a built-in audience for their product once it starts rolling off the assembly line. So it's pretty much what the Amigos did in "Shootin' for Love."

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