Decentralized Publishing

Dick’s post about changes in journalism applies in many respects to what has been happening in the publishing sector (books and magazine and e-pubs) since the 1960s, when the mimeograph machine made it easier to mass-produce written material. Remember those school test papers in faint purple ink? Editors, writers, and poets, along with protest movement activists cranked out countless pages of fiction, political commentary, meeting notices, underground poetry, and more. In the Soviet Union there was a name for this stuff: samizdat (self-publishing).

The change in technology led to a revolution in publishing that got labeled “the small press movement.” There had been “small” literary magazines throughout the 20th century and even earlier (The Dial, 1840-1929, on and off, in Boston with Emerson and friends), but the 1960s saw an exponential growth of small literary book and magazine publishers. There are still plenty of small presses around like Lowell’s Bootstrap Press, but the new thing is how this activity has migrated to the web with everything from e-zines and blog-like lit journals to e-books for download and print-on-demand options for both publishers and authors. There’s a book-production machine at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge that allows the user to insert a fully designed and formatted document on a flash drive and receive a finished paperback book in hand.

All this has thrown today’s publishing industry into semi-chaos as the companies try to figure how to acquire, produce, market, and distribute the books and magazines they are used to publishing. The “people” have more control of the means of production and as always have a lot to say. This is an exciting time to be around. Big concepts like Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press are being translated into action now more than ever.