Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Off with their heads! It's a revolution, baby...
Revolutions are, historically, bloody affairs. Upheavals of order, changing the status quo, out with the old and in with the new. People – especially the people in charge, for whom the old ways are working just fine, thanks very much – don't like change, and those in authority go down fighting, if they end up going down at all.
These are all good changes, for readers and authors both.
But other things have withered, too. The big advance. The publicity effort for anything other than the most carefully-selected bestsellers. The mass-market paperback, and ultimately the mid-list. All these things have suffered, and could die forever, for good or ill.
But that's okay, isn't it? Because we've cut out the middle man, and that's always a good thing, right? Authors are now in charge of their own destinies, and readers can drive the market like never before. So it's okay. Right?
Have we really eliminated the middle man? Or have we, like post-Revolution France, merely traded one king for another, and put the elephant in the corner (y'know, that big fat ugly one with ubiquitous online retailer stamped on his forehead) in charge?
Historically, revolutions die because the wrong people are put in power. The French Revolution committed suicide by executing the last man who had any hope of running the place – granted, the bloke was a maniac, but needs must – and calling in the army. The English, likewise, were one forceful republican personality short; their revolution wasted away when their pseudo-King died with no one to follow him. The world just wasn't ready for the ideas they'd birthed.
But I think the 'indie revolution' is different. It's an idea whose time has clearly come. Both for authors and for readers. We all wanted more. Well, now we've got it. What next?
Sure, the pendulum will swing: already, readers are complaining there's too much crap out there to find the good books, and authors are struggling for discoverability in the swamp of indistinguishable content. A shift back towards branded publishing is inevitable. And publishers are responding, with new digital imprints with shorter lead times, better royalties, more flexibility for authors. Wresting back control from General Bonaparte… er, I mean Mr. Elephant Retailer… has become a priority, lest the ideals of the revolution – that is, author control and reader satisfaction, in case you've forgotten – lest the very prizes we aimed for be lost.
The counter-revolution, citizens, is here. Who will emerge on top? Who knows?
But even 'failed' revolutions scatter newborn freedoms in their wake. The outdated and unfair French class system never recovered, and good riddance. The English Civil War birthed the right to silence, the presumption of innocence, representative government and other basic freedoms that every civilized society relies on to this day.
What's all this got to do with anything? I'm not really sure :) But nothing is cost-free. It's clear that you can't change the world without leaving some people bleeding by the wayside. And if you're going to chop off the king's head? You'd better have a plan for what to do next – or the elephant will just trample right over you.