Is Publishing a Class System?

Image - iStockphoto: FilmFoto
Image – iStockphoto: FilmFoto

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson
Is Publishing a Class System? –  Writing on the Ether


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Is Publishing a Class System?

[su_dropcap size=”4″]W[/su_dropcap]hat is important are the ethics of publishing.


Baldur Bjarnason
Baldur Bjarnason

If I knew what’s good for me, I’d just thank Baldur Bjarnason for that line and meet you in the comments section below, right?

Well, not so fast. After all, this is the Ether, so you’ve already packed a lunch. And, yes, Victoria Noe (a newly registered member of the BEA uPublishU Author Hub) is waiting to tell me that Mercury retrograde is having tidal effects on my Campari.

But listen to the sobering but resilient tone in Bjarnason’s Intermission: sorting through the banal. His comments are part of a long, personal assessment being echoed by other strong, sensible voices in the mix right now. The only danger is that what you hear doesn’t always sound like happy talk. It could be misconstrued as “depressing,” “negative,” “downbeat,” “pessimistic”…and how many such words have you heard thrown onto the fire of publishing’s distress in the last few years?

In truth, these comments and developments, appraisals and assessments—some very pointed, others more exploratory—have these things in common: candor, surprise, and exhaustion, as in the healthy exhaustion that arrives when we stop struggling and face up to some long-developing realities.

Here’s how Bjarnason goes on after saying that what’s important are the ethics of publishing. I’m bulleting his points to make them easier to parse:

  • Don’t choose a publisher who prevents you from self-publishing as well.
  • Don’t choose a publisher who by offering insulting contracts treats you like ignorant chattel.
  • Don’t choose a publisher who expects you to do all the marketing.
  • Don’t be the self-publisher who uses misleading covers.
  • Don’t be the self-publisher who treats cover designers worse than a large publisher treats a first time author.
  • Don’t buy reviews.
  • Don’t try and trick people into buying your books.
  • Have some dignity and don’t release books that violate every platform’s terms of service.
  • Make sure all the contracts you sign are honest, fair, and ethical.
  • Make sure all of the contracts you offer are honest, fair, and ethical.         

In Bjarnason’s Ten Commandments (yes, I counted), you’re reading references from sock puppetry to Kobo’s “EroticaGate” in its UK online store. These are defining episodes in the digital transformation of the business which now can be understood to have taught us something.

The phrase inflection point refers to a changed curvature. The point is a place in which curvature changes from convex to concave, or the other way.

What if we’re far enough along on publishing’s long, tortured curve into its digital future that we may be at or near an inflection point in how we gather, sort, and evaluate where we are?

But what if we’re rounding the bend only to find a new dilemma waiting?

What if we’re moving from what one revered observer calls an effort to transcend the idea of two classes of authors — to what another highly respected commentator says is a three-class system?

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