Web 2.0: Self-Publishing

For hundreds of years, the publishing industry has been a mystery. Just how do you get a book published? Where do you go with your manuscript, and what happens when you go there? The twists and turns of professionally producing a single book involve hundreds of people, from copyeditors to designers to printers to forklift drivers.

Web 2.0, the TIME magazine “person” of the year, provides us normal folk with an alternative, CNET reports. Print-on-demand self-publishing allows anyone with a computer to lay out their own book, upload it, and pay for as little as one copy. Sites like Blurb and Lulu allow users to purchase copies of their own book for as little as $40 (plus shipping).

Will this usher in a new age of self-publishing, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the latter 1800s–remember that Virginia Woolf used to publish her own little books for her family when she was a young girl, including a newspaper published just for her home. Will we see that kind of personal gift in the future. I think the odds are good.

What’s more, publishers support this and are trying to get on the bandwagon. Digital production saves everyone money, and as one publisher in the CNET article said, digitization would allow publishers to get out of the warehousing and distribution business and back into the publishing business.

Everybody wins, and once again the value of a single printed book declines to the point where it is common for everyone to have written one. It’s the Renaissance again, at least for publishing, a period during which there was no difference between a professionally produced book and one that was produced in the kitchen or parlor.

What happens to authorship under a system like that? I have to ask, as my thesis is bending that way. Well, it becomes less important. As publishing becomes more common, its prestige vanishes. If anyone can be an author, if the “publis” is put back into publishing, then we may find ourselves in a world where ideas become more important than attribution, where the beauty of language is more fulfilling than seeing your name in print.

We’re already headed that direction. Web 2.0 sites like the Wikipedia are leading the way with their often invisible attributions. We as a technical culture are ready to move into an age where we leave behind one conception of the self for the greater good.

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