Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Vanity publishing revisited

A wgile back I wrote that, in the end it all comes down to vanity publishing. Mea culpa. You can dress it how you like.
My point was that blogging, social media (whatever that is really), private web sites, publishing your pictures on Flikr or videos on YouTube is all no different from the old days. Back then it cost more - printing, binding, distributing - being your own publisher. And your 'readers' had to pay for the privilege of being, almost certainly, underwhelmed by your literacy, erudition or even talent.
You can have, as I do, your own web pages for little cost and frankly not that much effort. It grows like topsy, gets seen by your friends (hopefully alienating few - and occasionally embarrassing you with your own vacuity or sentimentality. My own dear wife recently chided me for appearing a little too wet lipped over one celebrity. That's the kind of take down order you comply with friends! And, when developers pitch to put up wind turbines, the site can suddenly have some real value.
B ujt these days they come commercially dressed as Blogspot, Wordpress, or graphically as YouTUBE A decade ago I fought hard to quash the use of socialy networking for one phenomena - I said you did that in a pub or club! But still we now have social networking and social media like Facebook, Twitter and others. Even semi-serious stuff like Linked-In and portals with a purpose, like Friends Reunited, Where Are You Now still come down to people like me in our millions writing stuff in the vague hope that somebody will care.
The reality is that in this brave new world of the internet its the traditional media still counts, that still generates an audience. Of course early adopters always had the best chance to stand out from the crowd - since at the time the crowd was pretty thin (not counting all that porn). Guido Fawkes is one good example; Stephen Fry another - but it was his existing traditional media-based fame that drew the crowds.
The best advice anyone could offer in the early 90s to would-be web entrepreneurs was by all means build your site, make it look good and perform well BUT make darn sure you get the conventional media to write about it or your site can hang in cyberspace like a weak embarrassment. relied on heavy main media advertising. They all did.
And frankly you will work hard to find anyone truly made famous solely by their internet presence. E-fame may well come but we are a long way from the moment when it will bge enough mjerely to launch yourself on a web-site, hook it up to Facebook, Twitter et al and sit back and wait. You will indeed wait a long time.
Its a bit like TV back in the early days. Forget the Coronation which was a kick start; think daily broadcasting. Until the traditional media started carrying the schedules and reviewing the programmes it was all going a bit slow. Even now, ask yourself how often you choose a programme solely on what you see on the TV screen itself? Odds on the idea springs from some other, probably traditional media trigger. Instant hard disk programming is a help but you have to be in the room to hit the magic button.
So if you will accept for now that all this explosion of material follows an honourable ancient tradition then what is Vanity Publishing and how did it start?
I turned first to Wikipedia. Now Wikipedia is an archetypal form of the Vanity art since it is that most prestigious of publications - dictionary and encyclopaedia  And yet the content is provided by us, the public. Of course Wikipedia does not acknowledge its contributors directly unless they are moderators so the vanity bit slightly obscure. But to be frank why else would you bother? The purpose is to show what you know.
How it defines Vanity Publishing is this:
Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. The author is responsible and in control of (the) entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR. The author can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services such as Lulu, Universe, CreateSpace and a multitude of others.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced.[1]
That last says it all - once the internet and the web had taken off the opportunities were enormous. But Wiki is still concentrating on The Book. And it  suggests that it is NOT Vanity Publishing if the writer contracts with a publisher to share the gains. Sorry guys but without the vanity there would be no publishing; even with a partner. Nobody slaves their lives over their first novel to pop it in a drawer and forget about it. Unless of course they really, really know it is no good.
The OED is more direct:
publishing on behalf of and at the expense of an author who pays for the production and often for the marketing of his book.
Plenty of companies offer the service and it does nopt start off very expensive - even a top publisher will do the job for less than £800. Mind you, they might have typset it, given you a designed cover, registered the book and got an ISB number and few more thi9ngs that matter but in reality it weill be up to you to get bit 'seen'. AQnd that will mean getting the tarditiuonal media to notice it. A web site review will help, on Amazon say, but if someone is going to pay a few pounds for your work they will wsant a decent reason to do so.
But this article is Vanity Publishing, pure and simple. My blogs, any blog is the same. Even if you get to be Guido Fawkes fame is the spur, vanity the cause. But that doesn't make it worthless or even pointless (although it can feel like it if nobody seems to be reading).
Firstly I was a professional (yeah, really!) and so this blogging keeps my mind at work and my hand in. I admit to only doing desk research these days. I have not the cheek to phone anyone without the justification of a publication behind me.
Secondly by storing it on my blog I can refer back to what I have written before, using old ideas, recycling older material or better still bringing stuff up to date. In the process I update my personal computer, my brain, and hopefully improving my modernity of thought in this changing world.
A work of fiction is perhaps not the same but I have started novels and got past chapter one before realising that, in all probability I am not quite up to that mark. No novel is entirely out of the mind. Existing knowledge, shored up by reference and research into less understood aspects of the plot improves the work. For that the brain benefits.
Of course there is a subtle difference between vanity publishing and vanity media as I shall call it. If you come across an example of vanity publishing you will inevitably wonder how many rejections are represented in the author's publishing costs. And from the few I have part read I am guessing quite a lot.
Having written that paragraph I am forced to pause. How many have actually stumbled upon my internet scribblings, read a bit and moved on never to return. Oh dear. Vanity... all is vanity.

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