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The Social Construction of Publishing

In my opinion there is not actually just one construct of publishing, I discern at least two such social constructs — perhaps there are even more, but let’s start with the one most people are already somewhat familiar with.

Authors. Blank pages. Pens, ink blots and such. Today, maybe desktop PCs — or sitting in a cafe with a laptop. The more wild sort live in the woods, cut off, locked in log cabins, dropping out of the mainstream grid. All of this is not exactly complete BS, but misses most of the true story.

The reality of publishing involves lengthy contracts with more fine print than most people can stomach in one sitting … but that is not all. Let me unpack this with a little chat I had a couple years ago with one of my friends, who is a “real life” published author. I think he doesn’t like this story very much, because he aspires to be one of those folklore romantic authors described above.

In contrast, I asked him how such a story gets published. He said the author submits it to the publisher. I asked more about the submission process, and he began to feel a little uncomfortable. I asked whether some publishers denied submissions, or asked for rewrites — he confessed. Let me cut to the chase: this process involves a lot of haggling, and the end result is not actually the product of one single author dreaming happily alone in the woods or on some balcony enjoying a starlit evening sky in the glow of a warm computer screen, maybe smoking a pipe or sipping wine, … no. The end result is created by an institution, of which the author is but one small cog in a vast machinery which churns out crap for mass consumption — that is the entire business model. The end result tastes more like a fast-food hamburger than a well-rounded gourmet meal.

The publishing industry is only interested in stories insofar as they can sell them to someone — for a profit. Note that here I am talking about what many people refer to as “traditional” publishing, but which I have for quite a while referred to otherwise (see “Hope & Change: Flipping the F-word & Removing the Old-Fashioned R-word” [ ]).

A few decades ago, some researchers came up with some ideas that would introduce a new kind of publishing — more or less. The seeds were actually planted by the defense industry in the United States of America, and they didn’t actually sprout until some other ideas (and significant advances in semiconductor technology) came along. If you want to travel back to the first days — or even the premonitions — of the Internet, go read Vannevar Bush’s “As We My Think” (which quite ironically was published by the “traditional publishing” industry this new technology is now destroying).

To cut to the chase yet again (remember, I want to deliver condensed morsels of information): this new publishing technology does require a certain level of literacy, but essentially replaces the entire institutional overhead in so-called “traditional publishing” with the click of a button [1].

Welcome to the Machine

Now here is the cherry on top — if you’re on a diet, just listen to this one small itty-bitty tidbit: I think there are actually (at least) two parallel societies out there. They never meet. They don’t interact. Both walk around with ten-foot poles to keep each other at a distance. The traditional society wants nothing to do with the clicking society. Traditional society views clicking society as raw and unpolished, unrefined to finer expressions and nuances. Clicking society — in case they are even aware of their own biases — views traditional society as backwards old farts, who are simply unable to use Google. Ah, Google! What a neato machine! Much of clicking society doesn’t even realize that this machine puts so-called “stars” [2] from traditional society (who actually pay real money for this so-called “service”) onto the SERPs of clicking suckers to believe in. Every fraction of a millisecond Google finds yet another sucker willing to believe in the Google mythology — KACHING!

[1] caveat emptor (I don’t really know much latin, but this way I can at least seem a little more learned): please consider the parallels I made in the previous chapter to the new institutional characters on the socially constructed chessboard in real life (see Chapter 8: “Flat vs Deep — Frames & Hierarchies“)
[2] fore more details about this, see Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” (image above via )