One of the things that continues to amaze me as computers become increasingly ubiquitous is how entire industries are beginning to vanish because their product has become superfluous. Nearly everyone following the tech sector knows that the decline of the media cartels has already begun: increasing numbers of bands are bypassing traditional recording labels and posting directly to iTunes and similar services; amateur directors are posting videos on sites like Google Video and YouTube rather than worrying about running in indie theaters; and would-be talk-show hosts are creating podcasts that are slowly beginning to challenge traditional radio. That whole area, though, makes me blasé; computers are by definition good at transmitting digital media, and, as all media becomes digital, it just makes sense that the studios would become yet another vestigial appendage of an older era.
What’s less intuitive to me, and what I follow with keen interest, is how computers are moving back into the traditional realms by revolutionizing physical media. Many people are familiar with CafePress, which allows nearly anyone to set up a store selling their original music or T-shirts, but more interesting to me are sites like Zazzle that let users make custom one-off designs for themselves. Of these, the one I’m excited about due to NaNoWriMo is Lulu, an extremely modernized on-demand publisher which will happily do one-off books at very reasonable prices ($9.50 and $12.50 for a 200- and 400-page paperback, respectively). The upshot is that, if I succeed at NaNoWriMo, no matter how poor the quality of what I produce, I can spend a pittance to get it in a professional form that I could sell to others.
No publisher. No editor. No agent. Just a PDF, a website, and few spare dollar bills.
Michael Gorsuch, our new sysadmin at Fog Creek, will be joining me in a month of NaNoWriMo misery beginning tomorrow. If we both win, my hope is to redact our novels just enough so that they don’t stink to high heaven, use my old newspaper background to typeset them and make them pretty, and then publish them in a joint volume through Lulu. That would’ve been impossible even two years ago, but now it’s ridiculously easy. If more people discover this technology, I fully expect that the publishing industry will end up reshaping itself more than ever as a purely marketing machine. Anyone who wants will get published; the publishers will be companies that simply trade a cut of the profits for free advertising. It’ll probably take a long time to get there, but it’ll be fun to watch the process.