While poking around in my archives yesterday, I ran across a very old post (very old in Internet terms, that is). It was about websites (remember those) versus blogs, and it echoed my feelings about self-publishing and where it might be headed.
For some time I have been thinking of posting my prognostications about the future of self-publishing, but realizing I once had to trash a large collection of 8-track tapes and that I still have a memo I wrote to my boss many years ago explaining that there was no future in Microsoft Windows (though, to be fair, if you had seen Microsoft Windows version 2.0, you’d probably have come away with the same opinion) I don’t really have a lot of faith in my business acumen. But reading that old post about blogs and their development arc confirmed that I am not “always” wrong; merely “almost always.” So pull up a chair; I have a story to tell.
Back in the old days, sonny, when the Internet was still the wild frontier, if you wanted to get your words out there, you needed a web site. This required mastery of HTML code, knowledge of file transfer protocols and the money to purchase some Internet real estate (ISPs weren’t free in those days, Bucko). In short, there were hurdles to clear; if you wanted to see your words on the web, you had to earn that privilege.
Then came these abominations called “blogs,” offering a simple (and free) way of posting content to the web that even your aunt Tilly could comprehend. With no hurdles to clear, the web was suddenly awash in the angst-ridden meanderings of 12-year old girls, the sad attempts of 13-year old boys pretending to be 24 year old nymphomaniacs and the rambling of middle-aged spinsters posting articles pretending to be from their cat.
It was chaos; a cacophony of poorly edited drivel drowning out our cultured voices. But we web-devotees didn’t mind. We knew that blogs were just a passing fad, a shiny toy people would soon tire of, so we sat in our caves scratching on the walls with burn sticks while the world moved on.
I’m not going to stretch the analogy further than that; I’m simply going to point out what happened to blogs. The websites had the advantage over blogs because they could link various pages of content together with a menu, as well has host an entry page of changing content. This became the default design because it was the most logical and no one, as ye, has discovered a better one. But blogs soon emulated this design, until they are now functionally indistinguishable from the websites they replaced.
In short, the status quo returned, and I expect the same thing to happen with self publishing.
The gold-rush is over; the early prospectors have hit it rich or gone home with their tails between their legs. We’re into the second wave now, where a more orderly route to setting up a claim has been established, and support businesses are starting to pop up. Just like in the real gold-rush, people have arrived and now they need services, but instead of setting up rooming houses, bars and brothels, the new support businesses offer editing services, cover design and the like. And also like the real gold-rush, there are shysters hanging out their shingles along with the reputable businesses.
In my opinion, this is where we are now; the towns are beginning to be built, it’s not so much of a frontier any longer and phase three—regulations—are just around the corner.
Keeping in mind that I am a crap prognosticator, and that I am not saying any of this might be good or bad, allow me to make my predictions:
Some sort of confederation of self-published authors will be formed. Its aim will be to raise and preserve the quality of self-published books. If I self-publish a book, I will have the option of submitting my manuscript to this confederation for review. If the writing is deemed to be of sufficient quality, then I will earn the right to display some sort of notification that my book has been vetted, signaling potential buyers that it is not a poorly written, error-riddled pile of pooh.
How this will come about and what it will look like once it arrives I cannot say, but I know that every movement seeks to return to some sort of status quo, and that regulation is inevitable. So I see some sort of peer review/quality check in self-publishing’s future. I think it is inevitable
But then, I bought a Betamax.