Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Self Publishing

Indi's post here reminded me of one I've been meaning to pen, or keyboard, for some months.

It's hardly a brilliant shaft of insight when I say this but the internet has revolutionised and totally transformed publishing as we knew it.

There used to be professionals and amateurs of every type of creative person;
writer, photographer, musician, journalist, film maker, documentary maker etc.

Then, this truly wonderful thing we know as the internet came along, took about twenty years or more to develop to what we now see as normal and spawned the platforms most of us have come to know so well. We've got flickr and facebook for photographers, youtube for film makers, myspace and soundcloud for the musos, blogs for journo types and epublishing, in all its guises, for authors.

Each of the respective platforms gives all of us the opportunity to write, take pictures, make music and make our contribution instantly available to everyone out there. No longer do we need to get ourselves a publishing deal or to spend years building up our reputation and learning things the hard way. All we need is to hit the publish or the share button and the job is done. As Pink Floyd would have said, had they been talking about a different thing altogether and in a different time, we don't need no publishing deal.

No, there are no such things as amateurs and professionals any more. Instead we have different people making different levels of income from their publishing.

This phenomenon has got massive positives and a significant amount of negatives. Come people, let's look at them. As a chap who (tries to) take(s) photographs, make music and also write I feel I'm reasonably well qualified, on a strictly amateur basis you understand, to talk about such things.

I started taking photographs when I was about fifteen and my Dad, in true Sri Lankan fashion, got me my first ever job working in a camera shop owned by a friend of his. I learnt how to take pictures the old way; developing films, bracketing exposures, struggling to understand hyperfocal focusing and using Kodachrome 64 and having to wait to see the slides to know how they actually came out.

I don't claim to be a good photographer now, but I do claim some degree of knowledge about the subject.

So I must admit it irks me somewhat when I see these people who wouldn't know a roll of 35mm film if they got attacked by a gang of, well, rolls of film, and they open a facebook account, stick the word "photographer" after their name and decide that that's what they are. Back in the good old days, when men were real men and wore dresses, it wasn't just anyone who could call themselves a photographer, you had to earn the moniker.

On the musical front, as a drummer who invests and has invested a lot of time trying to get better at that side of things, I also get a bit rankled when I see kids, some as young as thirty five, spend half an hour in their attic and then whack a song up on soundcloud or myspace (if it still exists), the likes of which I couldn't even hope to write.

Am I old fashioned in that I'm one of the sort who still gives credence to "experts"? I still rate the old school "professional" journalists, the "professional" photographers and the real musicians who've properly learned their craft.

But, despite my moanings and after much consideration, I've concluded that the positives far outweigh the negatives, most of which are related to my own pride anyway.

As a firm fan of the Kindle I now see that self publishing in terms of the written word is the way things are going to be. A quick glance at the Amazon book charts will show you what I mean. Yes, the world of the self published word gives us, the readers, some total tosh and utter piffle. But, us the readers are also us the writers and we're able to publish our own piffle too.

And much of that tosh and piffle isn't actually tosh and piffle, it's actually great quality writing. Writing that probably wouldn't otherwise have been published. Writing that, were it to be printed, edited, physically distributed, with all the extra cost involved, would almost definitely have never been accessible to us.

For every five people opening a facebook account and putting the word "photography" after their name, there's a few great talents getting exposure. Ha, "exposure", did you see what I did there?

Among all the idiots writing blogs and thrusting their stupid and idiotic opinions upon us, the innocent readers, there are some who show wisdom, intelligence and sound judgement that many simply would not have read if their only other outlet was "professional" journalism.

The technology that goes with all of this; garageband, photoshop and the like has raised the bar. There's no doubt in my mind that the levels at the top have got better, that people are now able to pick up and learn these things so much quicker than in those dark, pre internet years. In turn we've also seen the dramatic increase in people being involved at all. The digital age has seen more "photographers", "musicians", "writers" and "film makers". And more quotation marks too.

More volume means we have to accept the crap and dross at the bottom of the foodchain. We need to accept the negatives in order to take advantage of the positives. Overall the increase in activity gives us more good things.

A bit like life really.

Thoughts on a comment if you have the inclination.

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