On Sausages

So then. You decide to start the new year by making sure you finally get a real website running. You are filled with excitement about adding blog posts and other content so that it’s not just a static page. You sit down and ponder what to write about. And then Amazon and Macmillan decide to have a battle and all hell breaks loose. And even though we work in educational publishing, making the sort of things that won’t really work on Kindles at the moment and probably won’t ever be bought by consumers directly (although, that’s a thought), it’s difficult to think of anything else to cover.

But I am nothing if not someone who likes finding a broader theme. And following comments I read below excellent posts on the debacle here and there there’s certainly one that springs to mind. Which is, how in the name of all that’s holy has it come to pass that people have so little idea about the processes and economics of publishing?

There’s people who think that the average book sells in the tens of thousands. There’s people who think that authors and/or publishers are rolling about, Scrooge McDuck-like, in vast vats of money. There’s people who think that the process of editing, proofreading, designing and typesetting can be mostly automated. There’s people who think that most, if not all, authors are desperate to be their own publishers, that doing so is a trivial matter, that the publisher is a moustache-twirling villain, tying poor authors to the railways tracks of the market and letting the unresolved metaphor train crush them unless they are rescued by… well, by the genius who suggests self-publishing.

This isn’t just about publishing, of course. Many industries seem to have a disconnection between consumers and producers. Food production is the most obvious, although many of the solutions there involving killing your own animals probably shouldn’t be widely applied. And not all the assumptions are totally wrong or unfair even when they are assumption. But publishing is surely one business where it’s trivially easy to get information out there, on the percentage cost of a book as ink and paper, or on average sales or other such things.  Certainly a lot of information is confidential and sensitive, but when kerfuffles like this arise people shouldn’t be relying on old web pages, studies buried in blogposts or Wikipedia to get the basic facts.

Now, there’s an old saying of Bismarck’s about sausages and laws and how neither of them should be seen being made. This little cynicism is usually taken to be true about almost anything under the sun. I won’t speak to sausages, or laws, or music, or farmed foods, or anything else.With publishing, I can say that I think these misapprehensions are costly. They’re going to get worse over time. And there are people who will actively try to spread misinformation because it suits their business, and when publishers try to get facts out those same people will call them liars based on what might be called the truth of their hearts, aka stuff they made up.

But the alternative is to watch publishing become as much of a scary monster to frighten children as the music labels, and all for the want of openness. Which is where we came in, I guess.

(This is how you make sausages. Not so scary, is it?)

Comments are closed.