One of my friends who has enough patience to patiently listen to my own long-winded diatribes into various affairs in the realms of such sophisticated topics as literacy, economics or even the conditions of life in general (yet who will also occasionally interject and pepper my arguments with opinionated remarks about my own psychological state) has a quite strong prejudice against self publishing. This prejudice is not merely his own but is very widespread throughout the literate communities which grew up in the 20th Century and also to this day remains firmly established in “paper” media communities (e.g. in so-called “academic” circles).
This attitude will become increasing “odd” as time marches on, but for the 20th Century (and also previous centuries) is was very reasonable. Let me back up a little further in order to provide a wider historical context.
Since time immemorial, publishing has always been a very highly capital-intensive industry. The first (“movable type”) printing presses ought to be compared with today’s bioengineering or perhaps something like space exploration. Yet unlike space exploration, the historical context of ca. 1450 was a boiling cauldron just waiting for a little pressure to build up in order to explode — and what an explosion it was! The explosion of the Protestant Reformation lasted several hundred years, perhaps finally culminating in the American and French Revolutions. As I have previously noted, one of the hallmark quotes that depict this revolutionary period is the statement that “in America, law is king” — and thereby, of course, Tom Paine was referring to the somewhat new-fangled notion of written law (*).
(*) let it be known that I am well aware that the magna carta predated this expression by about a half millennium (and the code of Hammurabi predated it by several millennia)
Yet widespread literacy was uncommon even during the French Revolution (which itself, it can be argued, lasted several decades). The price of paper media remained inaccessibly expensive for ordinary / average / common people from the early days of vellum (and papyrus — let alone clay tablets and the like) well into the 19th Century. For Martin Luther, the first printing presses posed a precipitous fall in the price of publishing. For the publishing industry in the 19th Century, advances in printing technology and cheap paper became a pricipitous rise in the affordability of paper media for the broad masses, who would — perhaps thereby — become increasingly literate. In my humble opinion, it was during this era that “mass media” first became a thing. Later technological advances would continue to increase the role of mass media, but the “penny paper” was quite certainly the seed that set it all off.
Today, publishing remains a very capital-intensive industry by global standards. First of all, for the past two centuries literacy has largely remained a first-world phenomenon, as an adequate education of the masses — which Martin Luther demanded already five centuries ago — is (or at least was) a very cost-intensive project. Yet even much more simply put: a computer or handheld device (such as a mobile phone) capable of “online publishing” continues to remain a quite significant investment in many markets (plus the added costs of additional literacy requirements, which even the vast majority of the populations in most first-world countries simply do not suffice).
So what do I think will change as time marches on?
It may happen that the (in some cases) very significant “startup” costs (in some global markets) will contine to decrease — yet I am actually quite skeptical that these costs will fall significantly anytime soon (simply because they involve some very difficult-to-solve technological issues).
What I believe will obviously happen is that the cost of consumption — which has already fallen from quite insignificant (in some markets) to completely negligable (in other words: essentially zero) — will very significantly change the economics of mass media, insofar as it will no longer be possible to charge even just a penny (see also Esther Dyson’s seminal treatise on this development — see e.g. “Intellectual Value“).
It did not take long for the first “e-cunabula” (the incunabula of online media) to become plastered with advertising. Worldwide, propaganda industries have become very large and also remain very influential. Quite like the Roman Catholic Church’s response to Galileo, the publishing and propaganda industries have by and large responded to the challenge these disruptive technologies present with censorship. But the plethora of online media flooding the world with propaganda are running out of eyeballs they can arguably sell their so-called services to.
And this is, I believe, the root of the widespread skepticism with regard to self-publishing. In the past, a publishing intermediary was seen as a good method for separating the wheat from the chaff, and self-publishing was mainly practiced by an elite upper class rich enough to pay for the publication of whatever hare-brained ideas they might want to propagate into wider society.
Increasingly, however, since there will be little or no economic motivation to publish anything (insofar as the marginal costs of publication have become so negligable that they are now “too cheap to meter”), we will need a new method to separate the wheat from the chaff. Luckily, I have already developed the solution to this quandry, namely: the distinction between rational and irrational media (see “Hope & Change: Flipping the F-word & Removing the Old-Fashioned R-word” — and please note that irrational media are by their nature vastly more widespread than rational media, which are by comparison extremely scarce).
The main reason why this distinction remains a more-or-less well-kept secret is that establishment propaganda industries (such as the so-called “traditional” publishing industry and / or the advertising industry) aim to prevent the spread of increased literacy skills in order to reap more profits for their own propaganda interests.
It is only a matter of time. Recently, Frances Haugen has started to campaign against a prominent propaganda machine (“Facebook” [or “Meta”]). Yet she is probably also aware of the situation among other propaganda machines … in particular: what is perhaps the most prominent propaganda machine of all (“Google” [or “Alphabet”]). Why would she remain silent about one of the most prominent propaganda machines’ profit motives while at the same time deploring another somewhat less prominent propaganda machine’s profit motives? (see also “FaceBook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Presents Idea (for Government Regulation) that All Search Engine Algorithms Should Display Search Results in Reverse-Chronological Order“)