Friday, August 29, 2014

The Opposite of Legacy

So I just read the latest drivel from The Guardian which completely misrepresents self-publishing. There's no need for me to fisk it--Howey, Eisler, Gaughran, and others already shredded the stupid in the comments. And there was a lot of stupid. It makes me ponder how the mainstream media keeps getting so much wrong.

It also makes me ponder why self-pubbed authors care.

As far as mainstream media, I can point to lazy reporting, willful ignorance, nepotism, and not-so-hidden agendas. This blog has a long history of pointing out why legacy publishers do what they do, and their priorities often coincide with those of the legacy media.

Legacy media.

Years ago, Eisler used "legacy" to describe traditional publishing, and I've played a small part in popularizing the term on this blog. Indeed, the paper publishing industry is a legacy system. There are now faster, cheaper, and less-restrictive ways to get words to consumers than the antiquated method of acquiring, printing, and shipping.

The legacy publishing world knows this, and they have been putting up a continuous, united front to preserve this status quo while doing their best to inhibit the widespread adoption of ebooks. They're so single-minded in this pursuit, that they are missing opportunities to capitalize as much as they can on this new tech, instead trading potentially higher profits to retain a paper oligopoly.

I call self-publishing a shadow industry because the mainstream has steadfastly refused to understand its scope and power. Self-publishing is the most serious threat that legacy publishers must face, but legacy publishers don't realize it is a threat. They don't see the money being generated. They don't see the scale of authors adopting it. They haven't been hurt enough to acknowledge that a revolution is even taking place.

I believe the same thing is happening in the media.

I've found--and I'm sure I'm not alone--that when something newsworthy is happening, I first hear about it via Twitter or Facebook. Often, from people reporting what's occurring in real time.

I don't want to get off track here (and it is particularly easy to when we have so many examples of reporters and news outlets behaving badly), so I'll focus on The Guardian piece. Eisler, Howey, et al disemboweled that piece, which is a good thing because that piece is potentially harmful. New authors who want to take a crack at self-publishing could be dissuaded from trying it because of the disinformation it is stating as fact.

But is that really true? Why are self-published authors the self-appointed crusaders against stupid?

I do a lot of fisking on this blog, and I take the industry and the media to task when they spout nonsense, and my rationale is to provide counterpoints to the unsupportable legacy bias that gets all the media attention. I use facts and logic to dismantle the arguments, and while doing so I hopefully mitigate the harm that might be caused. I consider this activism, a public service for authors. The legacy publishing industry wants authors to still believe they are the only way to publish, and the legacy industry gets all the media attention, so I do my best to take away some of that thunder.

For the past year, I've been asking myself why I do this.

If the mainstream news is just as antiquated, biased, self-interested, and increasingly obsolete as mainstream publishing, isn't it also a legacy system? Hachette isn't reading my posts and admitting I'm right, then following my advice. Why would The Guardian or the NYT or PW listen to me or any other self-pubbed author? The legacy media are facing the same problems as legacy publishing; digital replacing paper, readers going elsewhere for information and entertainment, talent creating content without them and building their own followings and fanbases.

As a writer, I once craved the validation that came with a legacy publishing contract. I felt it legitimized me. Once I was accepted, I experienced a sense of fulfillment. Getting a PW starred review was a victory. Seeing my book on a library shelf was its own reward.

Now I realize how empty those feelings were. Getting paid well and being treated fairly is much more fulfilling that the approval of a clique. Having power and control over my career trumps seeing my book in Wal-Mart. I don't care what the legacy publishing industry thinks of me, or of self-publishing. We're going to outlast them.

I realized, after reading The Guardian piece, that I feel the same was about legacy media. I don't need to make The Guardian understand how stupid that article is. I don't need to make the NYT understand how stupid their support letter for Authors United is.

And I don't need to protect writers from this stupidity. They can figure it out themselves after a little digging. Or they can figure it out after they've gotten reamed by the system.

I can't help the willfully ignorant, whether it is a publishing house, a newspaper, or a newbie writer who is seeking the same validation I once did.

What is happening is an echo chamber on both sides. Legacy authors, and those who want a chance to be legacy authors, continue to defend the status quo. Indie authors continue to point out the stupidity exhibited by legacy authors, publishers, and media. The only time anyone will change their mind is when they have direct experience of one, the other, or both.

But, ultimately, nothing that either side says or does (or doesn't say or do) will stop the inevitable migration to new ways of reading and publishing.

I don't believe there is an antonym for "legacy system" because everything eventually becomes a legacy system. Technology transforms systems, and people and data migrate along with the tech. It isn't Us vs Them or Old Way vs New Way. It has, and always will be, constant transformation and migration vs stagnation and obsolescence.

Evolution isn't about choosing sides. It's about slowly adapting to new environments. The Guardian doesn't want to adapt? They'll be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. Click bait and concern trolling isn't going to pay their shareholders. Like the Big 5, the days of Big Media in its current form are numbered. There is still some money to be squeezed out of it, but status quo bias is an indicator of desperation, not growth.

Self-publishing may always be a shadow industry. The media may not ever discuss it. The Big 5 will continue to ignore it. And that's okay.

As writers, we can continue to inform one another, share data, and point out stupidity. This is helpful.

But it isn't vital. Change will come even if we all remain silent.

I wonder if my blog isn't just another form of validation. Have I traded my desire for acceptance by the legacy system for acceptance by the shadow industry? Has the thrill I once got from a PW review been replaced by the thrill of reading my blog comments, or being retweeted? Am I an activist for the same reasons I spent ten years trying to break into legacy publishing, because it makes me feel legitimate?

Maybe, just maybe, our time is better spent writing. By being the change, rather than bemoaning how others aren't seeing the change.

We no longer need gatekeepers. Not legacy publishing gatekeepers. Not legacy media gatekeepers.

And we no longer need to keep telling them we don't need them.

They don't care. Neither should we.