More than once during my life I’ve been involved in trying to solve a problem that never previously existed. In grappling with such issues I’ve managed to make a small contribution to the cause, which was both interesting to me as a process and satisfying as an end.
In turning my mind to the evolving (devolving?) world of publishing, I anticipated a similar opportunity, but as I noted indirectly in this post there really isn’t a lot that one person can do to affect the course of future events.
Hardware issues will sort themselves out in the marketplace. The best I could hope to do would be marginally tip the balance of power by betting on one particular technological horse with my money. Because I don’t want to bet wrong, and because I don’t care who wins, I’m keeping my money while the early-adopters chip in.
Software issues are pretty much the same. Formats, compatibility issues, open-source vs. proprietary — all this is going to be determined by others, whether consumers, patent-holding litigants or deep-pocketed monopolistic corporations. My only goal is to avoid locking myself into something that becomes a dead end, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Copyright issues are now firmly (and appropriately) the province of the courts, and perhaps even Congress. The courts can of course be duped by tech talk, as the patent office and the DOJ have repeatedly demonstrated, but the fact remains that I can’t really affect the outcome here. Even a broad grassroots campaign would have a hard time materially affecting the various scheduled and to-be-anticipated trials, no matter how much press coverage or buzz they inspired.
In fact, there is no macro level at which I think individual contributions will be effective in answering any over-arching question relevant to the future publishing. All possible solutions will be tried, some will survive, and a few will become the inevitable answers. Which means the passive observer need only sit on the sidelines and wait for all this to shake out.
However tempting it is to feel that my meaningless in the face of these macro issues is synonymous with helplessness, I think that’s getting it exactly backwards. These publishing uncertainties are not problems which need to be solved in order for individuals to publish their work. They are, rather, uncertainties which need to be solved so that third-party players know which product, technology or persona to bank on.
But I’m not a third-party player. I’m a content creator, and content creators do not need to wait one day to publish their work because the internet is already a world-wide publishing mechanism. Take your words, put them on the web like my words here, and you are published. Include your words in a printable format and you have enabled POD (print on demand) for your consumers.
With apologies to Scott Gant, we’re all publishers now, and that means the problems we’re solving are inherently personal. Yes, we can all learn from each other, and I hope others have learned and will learn from my experiences. But I’m the only one who can really address my own writing, storytelling and publishing goals.
Which means it’s time for me to transition from trying to understand the industry to trying to understand myself. (Please stand back.) In this case, the problem that never previously existed is also a personal opportunity I’m grateful for, and one I am eager to explore.
First up: identifying the target I’m trying to hit.
— Mark Barrett
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