Not something that is new
Self-publishing is hardly a new phenomenon. Indeed, arguably the earliest form of publishing was self-publishing. In earlier times, it was common for gentlemen scholars (especially) to pay a printer to produce and publish their works; for a long period, then, printers and publishers were virtually synonymous.
This anarchy was not something necessarily approved of. The mass printing of bibles by Gutenberg and his successors broke Rome’s monopoly on biblical interpretation and fuelled the Reformation. A century later, John Milton expressed great unease with just anyone self-publishing their ideas; the safeguard of the Protestant revolution, he argued, lay in the tight control of ideas. Church and state state should guard who and what might be published.
The rise (and declining fortunes) of the publisher
It is, then, interesting that – despite the increased freedom of expression achieved in the three centuries after the Milton’s time – in this period publishers evolved to become something like the guardians whom Milton sought; they became the gatekeepers of literary and scholarly merit. Indeed, at their high point a few decades ago, publishers could almost have been likened to a brahminical caste dictating what the bulk of the population should read.
Undoubtedly, the status of publishers has declined since this golden age as the old gentlemen publishers have been displaced by lower forms of life with a crude, commercial disposition. However, it is only in recent years that has there arisen such a contempt for publishers in some quarters. In part this is of publishers’ own making, a reaction to public revelations of cronyism, arrogance, blunders, short-sightedness, poor judgement, and much more. Worse, publishers as a breed (but trade publishers in particular) have shown themselves to be focused on selling ‘product’ (which could as easily be buttons as books) not literary or scholarly works.
But the advent of the Internet and printing revolutions in the past decade has wrought the greatest damage. These developments have enabled (some) authors to bypass the gatekeepers and in a relatively cheap and simple way to self-publish their work – and, in so doing, to reach out and make direct contact with their readers.
This blog is a good example of such self-publishing but even in such traditional forms as the printed monograph there is a significant increase in self-publishing.
Exploring this further
Accordingly, in the next few days I shall be writing the following series of blog posts that explore this issue as it affects the world of scholarly publishing:
- Why self-publish?
- Have publishers any role or purpose today?
- Peer review and academic credibility – barriers to self-publishing
- Answering rejection with self-publication
- Self-publishing options
- Requirements and costs of self-publication
- Doing it yourself or employing others
- Making the self-publishing decision
- The death of community and consensus