Let me get this out of the way: Eliminating gatekeepers is mostly a good thing. Allowing everyone into the party is good. New voices good. Free speech good. Control over your own IP good. There are many, many good things I could continue to list. Likewise, elimination of barriers to entry in terms of production costs and venues to sell though is incredibly good. I just wanted to make that clear before I move on to the next part. Because I think we’ve forgotten the value of risk in indie publishing.
What I’m going to say here applies to my own publishing niche. A lot of it fits with the larger indie-pub ecosystem as well. The truth of it only varies by a matter of degree.
The Value of Risk in Indie Publishing
Before Kickstarter you needed to scrape together your own money, print the thing, haul it to a convention or book fair or whatever event, and pray that people bought it. That includes maybe finding someone to distribute it, or stores willing to carry it.
This was also before the existence of semi-reliable print-on-demand services. You couldn’t order 10 copies to hand-sell at an event, or keep in your home office to mail off if someone wanted a copy. To keep the price of the book in line with the market, you needed to keep costs down. To keep costs down, you needed to order in large quantities.
Which also meant that your book had to be bulletproof. It had to be good. You had to finish it, and do a reasonable job of editing it. Most readers would allow some margin of error because you were indie, but at the same time they’d look down on you for needing that same margin of error.
Risk Aversion as an excuse for Laziness
Now it’s “eh, if it doesn’t fund I won’t write it”. Which, okay, you’re managing risk. But you’re doing so by avoiding it outright. So, if you aren’t taking any risk are you really managing risk?
This is also the age of “eh, if it’s got errors I’ll just push an update”. Seriously, someone on Twitter was talking about how great it was to be able to publish an unedited, incomplete manuscript, which they are charging money for, because as readers found errors or they wrote a new chapter they could upload a new digital file.
Anyone can do this. Not everyone can do it well. Aside from internal drives to want to do things with a high degree or efficacy, i.e. holding yourself to personal standards, risk can push us to do better. When you eliminate a lot of the risk, you also take away the need to care as much about quality and standards.
My Own Publishing Risks
I need to minimize risks in terms of what I choose to publish. This is my full-time job. I need to make money and pay the bills. Which means I can’t afford to create things solely for my own amusement, which garner no real interest from my audience. There are no gatekeepers in my world, but there’s no concept of art for art’s sake, either.
Again, lowering barriers to entry is great. I think on some level the barriers to entry make us work harder. We appreciate what it takes to get in. At least, the people who had a clue understand. I know that following the old paradigm folks ended up with cases of books moldering in their garage.
But that was a consequence that existed. It made them stop doing things half-assed. They either quit, because they realize that this is real work and it is hard, or they persevered and got better.