Many publishing problems confront authors today, so I’m trying an OpenSource-capitalist hybrid publishing strategy for my next book, Darwin, Dada, Dalí, Duke & Devadevàya, or 5D for short.
My Next Book
I haven’t posted anything in some time. I retired from medicine, moved to Spain, and started working on my next book.
I’ll be taking this blog in a new direction for a few months, to discuss my current book-in-progress. I want to offer some novel insights about creativity and innovation, and point to some possibilities about how to accelerate human progress so that we might solve some pressing problems, faster.
To do that, I will build off of biological ideas. Despair not: if you didn’t like biology in school, I’m not going to talk about cell anatomy, the Krebs cycle, or any of the countless groups of animals that all just look like worms. Rather, I will use some simple ideas from biology and statistics, things that we all use in conversation—competition, survival, probability, averages—and apply them to everyday things in the modern world.
Everyday things like the survival of humanity.
At a few points, I will need to use a word or concept that some people may not recognize. When I do, I will try to explain them in as simple and painless terms as I can.
Academic Publishing Problems: Publish or Perish? I’ll Pass
At the same time, I’m going to try something a bit different for publication and promotion of my ideas. Although the book will be written to be useful and accessible to everyone, a major audience will be biologists and other scientists.
Scientists, however, typically introduce research and new ideas in peer-reviewed journals. That’s the first of several publishing problems, because academic journal publishing is a glacial process. The series of essays I will share will probably amount to a couple dozen, and each will build off of previous essays. For me to go through the slow and torturous routine of thorough literature review, writing, journal submission, peer review, rejection, re-submission elsewhere (with a different citation style1)Biology is different from most academic disciplines in that almost every journal requires a different citation style. Journal editors tell you that citation formatting is unimportant in the submission and review process; seasoned researchers tell you that it is important. ), yet more rejections and submissions, editorial feedback, rewriting, and then waiting a year or more for an accepted paper to be published… well, to publish a couple dozen papers that build on one another would take me decades, even an entire career.
Fortunately, I do not have a university appointment, so I don’t have to publish in peer-reviewed journals. When it comes to ‘Publish or Perish,’ I can choose ‘Pass’, and skip them both. I just want to write books and share my ideas. So I’m interested in how I can avoid academic publishing problems.
Book Publishing Problems
I hope to have the current book out in two or three years.2)Of course, that’s what I said about my last book, 10 years before it came out That, however, presents a very different set of publishing problems: most book publishers won’t touch a nonfiction manuscript unless the author and/or his ideas already have an established audience. Which means I either need to be a popular celebrity, or recognized internationally for my publications in…
But then, if I already have an audience, do I really need a publisher? Recent years have seen traditional publishers, particularly the largest, investing less and less resources, and doing less and less of work, while dumping more and more of the cost and work onto the author.
All while pulling in record profits, despite their hand-wringing otherwise.
First, few big publishers today will look at a nonfiction manuscript unless it is brought to them by an agent they trust. Since the agent is paid out of the author’s royalties, publishers have shrewdly shifted the cost of vetting manuscripts onto the writer.
Some presses have also begun requiring the author to pay for his own editor.
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the end of it. Before many presses will publish your current book, they will require that the author also give them rights to the next book, or next several books, with no advance, and without any guarantee of publication for those books.
And often after all of that, publishers don’t pay the author honestly nor promptly.
Kleptoplutocrats, Narcissists, and Media
Modern publishing problems are threatening a lot more than books, they are threatening intellectual activity in the modern world. I looked at the problem in my last book, partly in anticipation of my current effort:
Large corporations increasingly control the media. Currently 80% of the books in the US are produced from just 5 companies, only two of which are American corporations. 90% of all U.S. media—books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, Internet—are produced and controlled by 6 corporations. Those media empires, in turn, are controlled by just 15 billionaires. As I am writing this, the Federal Communications Commission is working to revoke Net Neutrality, handing over to corporations control of the Internet infrastructure which was built with citizens’ tax dollars, which would enable that handful of people to increasingly block us from seeing the small portion of independent news which remains. Independent news is in danger either way; the few profitable independent media which survive, suffer constant wooing from the handful of media plutocrats to sell out.
The modern robber-baron manipulates, acquires, controls, and sabotages modern media. Some of this sabotage is by design, but much of it is simply a byproduct of greed and intellectual sloth. In his slender volume, The Business of Books, André Schiffrin documents the decline of the book industry. One of the more important trends he relates is that when he and other editors demonstrated that new and daring titles could still be profitable, the overlords were uninterested: they told their employees to stick to accepted patterns. Schiffin, as well as the edgy books he found, represented independent thought and initiative. The narcissist demands subservience and obedience. Progress is a threat to his control.”
Increasingly, the problem in the modern world is that everything critical to progress — industry, government, even the courts — is influenced and controlled by a shrinking number of narcissists, who want the rest of us to do as we are told. Unfortunately, as we see from the preceding comment, those narcissists have also taken over media, the one industry that is perhaps most important to the democracy. Without an independent, well-informed electorate who has access to different perspectives, democracy cannot survive. And without the timely flow of new ideas and information, progress slows.
The Pirate Kings of Publishing
So we need to ask, What exactly does a publisher do for the author? You get the publisher’s imprint, which often carries weight with reviewers and bookstores. They design the cover, but more and more they just slap on a free image, and a few even use the same generic design for all of their books. They also pay to print hard copies, although they usually resort to the cheapest format possible.3)Do you have any hardcover copies of the Harry Potter books? Take a look at them. They don’t have durable sewn bindings, instead they are ironically named ‘perfect’ bound, i.e., cropped and glued together like paperbacks. They only look like quality, they are actually cheaply made. Then consider that Rowling’s books are the great bestsellers of our day. Of course, the very cheapest publishing modality is the eBook, which basically costs nothing but generates enormous margins for the publisher.
All the while, huge retailers work to reduce what they pay for a book. The publishers don’t quietly absorb these losses; they take them out of the author’s cut.
These publishing problems are growing, and taking over the industry. More and more, publishers and large retailers are like the pirate kings of Troy, who controlled the only waterway connecting Europe to Asia. Like the ancient Trojans, they add very little value to the process, while extorting every penny they can before allowing new ideas and voices access to markets.
Fortunately, the modern world also offers some remedies: I can always self-publish in paper format, electronic format, or both.
Or I can just go to OpenSource publishing and give the book away. We live in changing times; in fact, changing times is what I what I want to talk about.
So I want to reach readers in academia and the public, and publish4)We often forget that ‘publish’ just means to make something available to the public. my ideas in a shorter time frame. I have this blog, and I can post my ideas here. But building up a blog audience carries its own costs, and it typically requires more time and effort to attract readers, than to write and publish the blog.
Fortunately, I don’t have to limit my publishing efforts to one modality. So I’m going to try a bit of OpenSource publishing, and freely share my writings in multiple places.
OpenSource Publishing Pitfalls
But traditional OpenSource has drawbacks. In pure OpenSource, everything is freely shared, and anyone can use the content however they like; think Wikipedia.
I have mixed feelings about that. First, having headed up an educational nonprofit for the past 30 years, I slowly learned that when you give stuff away, people don’t value it. They take it for granted, and that isn’t good for the creator.
Nor the consumer. We need to be grateful for the value around us; consider that fresh air and clean water have been freely available for centuries. But that free availability means that some people have exploited and abused these resources, and the rest of us ignored them while they did. We took the most essential things for granted, just as we take many other critical things for granted today.
Democracy and the rule of law, for instance, although a growing number of people are realizing that our way of life is not a given.
Second, in and among the avaricious publishers and polluters, are also pimps: while many of us selflessly contribute to the general welfare of the community, a few people figure out how to commandeer our free contributions, and then use them to further exploit and abuse us. For instance, while valiant soldiers risk and give their lives for our country for the smallest of salaries, kleptoplutocrats meddle in our government, and even manufacture wars, so that they might profiteer from the soldiers’ sacrifices. So the way of life that these men and women fight and die for is often corrupted, precisely by exploiting their selfless commitment.
My final concern involves the comment from Jesus, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” This requires a disclaimer on my part: I believe that I am also worthy of my wages. Regardless, if someone makes a contribution from which others profit, the producer should also profit. Part of that is simply practical: the wages for important work allows the producer to generate yet more important work.
I worry that OpenSource publishing feeds all of these problems: it undermines value, it further empowers the ambitious narcissists to exploit the rest of us, and it short-changes and handicaps people who are doing important work.
OpenSource-Capitalist Publishing Hybrid
There have been some innovative solutions that allow OpenSource content to be freely shared, while still making money. OpenSource software companies derive income from customizing software, consulting, teaching, hosting, or otherwise supporting those who use the software. Some OpenSource systems include advertising to pay the bills.
And then there is Eric S. Raymond’s seminal book on — surprise — OpenSource, titled The Cathedral and the Bazaar. It is an OpenSource-capitalist publishing hybrid which is available electronically for free, while hard copies can be purchased through traditional channels.
After mulling all of this over for the past year, I decided that I want to try a slightly different OpenSource-capitalist publishing hybrid approach. I’m going to give away the guts of the book, while reserving the fuller explanation for a traditional hard copy. The hard copy will appeal to readers who want to explore my ideas further, and to Luddites like me who still like the feel of paper.
So what I will do is flesh out my major ideas with a series of essays, and post them on ResearchGate and on other social media, and here on my blog.
Stick around. It should be interesting.
|↑ 1.||Biology is different from most academic disciplines in that almost every journal requires a different citation style. Journal editors tell you that citation formatting is unimportant in the submission and review process; seasoned researchers tell you that it is important.|
|↑ 2.||Of course, that’s what I said about my last book, 10 years before it came out|
|↑ 3.||Do you have any hardcover copies of the Harry Potter books? Take a look at them. They don’t have durable sewn bindings, instead they are ironically named ‘perfect’ bound, i.e., cropped and glued together like paperbacks. They only look like quality, they are actually cheaply made. Then consider that Rowling’s books are the great bestsellers of our day.|
|↑ 4.||We often forget that ‘publish’ just means to make something available to the public.|