I encourage you to spend some time with Cory Doctorow’s thoughtful piece from The Guardian re: the changing role of publishing in hopes it will cause you to consider what publishing really was, and what it might become. Cory mentions “publishing” as it was defined for him more than ten years ago:
Once in a while, someone will say something that’s so self-evidently true, and so unexpected, that you’ll spend the rest of your life working through its implications. For me, one such truth is “A publisher makes a work public, it connects a work and an audience”, and the person who said it is my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor at Tor Books, the largest science fiction publisher in the world.
He discusses how, because of the reality of the atom-based pre-digital world, “publishing” used to including “manufacturing” and “distributing” by default. The fact a book existed on the shelf meant it had passed through gatekeepers who thought enough of it to edit, print, and ship it somewhere. But, as Cory points out, while those were necessary steps, they were just part of what it means to connect a work to an audience.
In today’s world manufacturing and “distribution” can both happen without making any connection at all to an audience. I can easily upload a video to YouTube or a song I just made in iPad Garage Band (<3) to Soundcloud, but have I published it under the definition above? I’d argue no, the act of making something available no longer says anything about its likelihood to find an audience. It’s not until someone picks up that video or song and places it in the stream of consumer attention is it “published”.
I’ve been trying to pay attention to the path things take as they move from unknown to known. There are more “publishers” than ever and no longer do a few gatekeepers decide what can find any audience. That channels and technology now allow for the viral spread of content and ideas is undeniable. It’s not hard to think of videos which have gone from an inexpensive hand-held device straight into your home simply because a friend thought it was funny. But while content with exceptionally broad appeal may find a quick viral spike, there’s a difficult road for something more sublimely enjoyable, a piece of music which takes a nudge from a friend and a couple of listens to appreciate the depth and begin enjoying (my favorite kind). For those we need trusted sources, and I believe those trusted sources become increasingly important and influential as our number of options increases. In this way it feels as if those formerly thought of as critics or filters might become the true “publishers”, the ones who connect content with audience.
Funny, I’m about to hit “Publish” on this blog post in WordPress. Perhaps they need to change that verb. It isn’t until Feedburner drops this in your inbox or Hootsuite sends my scheduled tweet or you re-Tweet or post to your Facebook wall that it is actually connecting with an audience and therefore published, right?