The advent of electronic self-publishing has caused a tidal wave of reactions, emotions and effects in the world of publishing, as well as in broader society. A surprise to many of course, however it has really all been done before – a very long time ago in the Fifteenth century.
My first qualification in working life was as a lithographer, so during my apprenticeship I learned a great deal about Alois Senefelder, Johannes Gutenberg, William Caxton and the revolution that the printing press created. A quote from a Wikipedia entry about the Printing Revolution caught my attention while checking my facts for this post.
The phenomenon of the Printing Revolution can be approached from a quantitative perspective which has its focus on the printing output and the spread of the related technology. It can also be analysed in terms of how the wide circulation of information and ideas acted as an “agent of change” (Eisenstein) in Europe and global society in general.
So here we go again with an ‘Agent of Change’.
Just as the printing press Caxton invented around 1439 enabled text and therefore information to be circulated to the masses and upset the status quo of that period, electronic publishing, print-on-demand and the power of giant online retailers such as Amazon and Apple, have all created a similar effect by tipping today’s publishing and distribution status quo on its proverbial head. This is especially true for the traditional publishers who have had a shared but still almost monopolistic hold over the market. Often referred to as ‘The Big Six‘, they held the power over authors, agents, distributors and retailers for a very long time.
So now the gates are open and the ‘horse has bolted’ so to speak, as we read everyday of new battles raging between the major technology players and the giants of publishing. All of course protecting their own vested interests and shareholders. However, while they are fighting for supremacy, and others for survival, the humble writer has been freed from their chains.
No longer is it necessary to crawl over broken glass to find a Literary Agent and then if finally fortunate enough to be signed, abide by a rigid contract of obligations and editorial dictates. Today’s writers and authors can now pick and choose their medium and avenues to readers. Mind you, on their own and with none of the clout and financial resources the ‘Big Six’ had to offer.
It will take quite some time for the waves on the publishing pond to settle, but a new monopoly may be readying itself to pounce on the turbulence. With Amazon preparing itself to become a publisher under the name of Amazon New York, could we see a future where the ‘Big Six’ becomes the ‘Big One’?