Traditional Publishing in an Open Source World

Among writers of every kind there is an ongoing debate of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-publishing. For me the answer will always be Self-publishing. The reason for this is that I feel I have a moral obligation to do so, based on my political views of the Open Source Movement. If you do not agree with the Open Source Movement then you will never agree with my views of traditional publishing and should probably abandon the attempt now.

With the advent of ebooks the idea was that they would be cheaper then print copies, allowing more people to be able to read them. This has not happened. Many ebooks, especially from mainstream authors, cost as much, if not more, then the paperback equivalent. J.K. Rowling’s new book is exceptionally high priced, and rumor has it that originally it wasn’t going to be released in e-format at all.

Our initial response to such prices is “What idiot author thinks he’ll get more for an ebook then the paperback?” The answer is: not as many as you think. The publisher sets the prices.

Once you sign a contract with a publisher your work is no longer your own. I don’t profess to be an expert, and I don’t doubt that there are exceptions, but having someone else dictate the price of my books and what formats they are available does not sit well with me. But mostly publisher, like all media distribution companies, are not in favor of Open Source, and feel threatened by it.

Many are the traditional authors who descry the new influx of self-published authors swamping the market. God forbid they have to work to sell their books, rather than having a monopoly on the market, by means of exclusive publishers! God forbid that their works are undersold by beginning upstarts who have lower prices and higher royalties at once.

And who invented this thing called “internet” anyway? Who decided that free exchange of information was a good thing?

When I publish my non-fiction books I will be releasing them under a creative commons license. This allows them to be freely distributed, without charge. Remember those copyright notices that say if you make a photocopy for a class or a friend you’ll be prosecuted? A creative commons license says “Go ahead. Copy it. Share it. Just give me credit and don’t change or sell it.” At sometime in the near future I may do something similar for my fiction as well.

You can’t do that if you’re traditionally published.

“But how can you make money that way?” everyone shouts. “People will steal your work!”

So? Let them. They’re welcome to try.

I watched a TED talk today about elementalism. In it the speaker, Paul Bloom, ask the question of why we like originals better than forgeries. What I found most interesting is the fact that we do. If you really love my books who are you going to support? The author or the rip-ff? Suppose someone steals the first book in my series and puts it up on a website to be downloaded for free. I’m selling it for 5.99 on Amazon, and you didn’t buy my copy.

If the pirated version wasn’t available – would you have read it at all? And if it’s a truly brilliant book, if you really love it, you’re going to look me up, and most likely buy the sequels. And if you don’t, if I can’t capture your attention, then I don’t deserve any better. I don’t’ have any right to take advantage of a bloated and capitalist system to squeeze money out of the masses and prosecute the nerds who try to make my stories available to more people.

It’s free promotion, people. Encourage it – don’t squash it.

I read once about a successful self published author who got noticed by a traditional publishing company and was offered a contract. He accepted it.The story was a success story told from the publisher’s point of view but my reaction was “Sell out.” I believe self-publishing is an amazing thing, and this author proved it, but rather than stand and make a statement to that effect he went traditional, betraying everything he’d accomplished so far.

I don’t presume to pass moral judgement on the authors who choose to publish traditionally. I have a very close friend who is considering a scenario very similar to the one above, and I do not pass judgement on that. But as long as I support the open source movement, with all of it’s various components, my opinion of the tradition publishing system will remain unchanged.

Here I stand. Freedom forever!


Traditional Publishing in an Open Source World — 2 Comments

  1. An ardent self-publisher, I see! I am self-published. I agree with the points you made about retaining control of the work. In particular, I think self-published books have more personality because traditional publishers demand plastic, mass-appealing books. The only issue I have with self-publishing is the difficulty of competing with “real” publishers in marketing and distributing the work.

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