Are Self-Published Writers Socialists?

I like self-publishing.  No, like isn’t a strong enough word.  I am head-over-heels passionately in love with self-publishing.  It is a wonderful, liberating thing.  It gives me the opportunity to share my stories, my soul, with a wide number of people.  I would never be able to reach these people otherwise.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it would take much longer to reach people and that there is no guarantee that a publisher would enable me to reach people otherwise.  Self-publishing enables me to take my fortunes into my own hands and to become the author of my own destiny.

I was contemplating this the other day, contemplating how wonderful it is that the tools of publishing have been put into the hands of authors like me, and a phrase popped into the back of my mind.  It was something about the means of production being in the hands of the worker.  Socialism!  So I immediately hopped on Wikipedia to research my suspicion.

Wikipedia defines Socialism as “an economic system characterized by social ownership and/or control of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy.”  The article goes on to say that there are actually a lot of definitions of Socialism covering politics and economics.

I submit that publishing could be added to that list of things that can fall under the banner of Socialism.

 

Never considered yourself a Socialist?  Are you trembling at the thought?

Consider this:

Thanks to the advent of the eReader and ePublishing tools and distributors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and more, a writer no longer needs a centralized power to produce their work and distribute it to the masses.  The Capitalistic model of a top-down system, wherein the means of production is owned by an individual or company that picks and chooses whose work it will produce based on perceived profitability, is no longer the only game in town.

These days anyone can publish just about anything and have it distributed (electronically at least) to as many different outlets as a Traditionally published author.  Whether it sells or not is determined by the quality of the work and demand from the reader.  A marketing and publicity campaign helps, but as countless self-publishing guidebooks and testimonials tell us, in the end a quality book will sell itself through word of mouth.

Voila!  Publishing Socialism!

Sort of.  The other main tenant of Socialism as I learned it in high school is the idea of “From each according to his ability to each according to his need”.  In other words, in a perfectly functioning Socialist society you would work in good faith to the best of your ability in a job that you loved and were well suited to (writing in the genre of your choice) out of a love of your work and your fellow man and that work would be distributed to those who needed it (or wanted to read it) without the pesky inconvenience of money.

So really for a self-published author to be considered a Socialist they would have to give their work away for free.  And we all know that no one does …  Hey, wait a minute!

Raise your hand if you’re a self-published author who has at some point run a promotion where you’ve given your book away for free.

*raises hand*

I recently read a complaint about the pricing of eBooks that centered around the idea that with so many authors offering their work for free, pricing can’t reflect the true value of the book.  The article postulated that authors will never be able to make the amount of money that their work deserves because you can’t compete with free.  Capitalism meets Socialism.

Now, I don’t know about other self-published authors, but when I offer my work for free it’s only for a limited amount of time and the purpose of the promotion is to sell more books once it ends.  Also to earn a few reviews that I might not have gotten otherwise.  Giving away books is not so much a Socialist statement as a Capitalistic advertisement designed to entice readers.  But I still love the idea that all of this was made possible because I have the means of production at my fingertips.

Granted, the Socialist model of publishing doesn’t exactly hold water.  Not until someone offers to pay all of my bills and expenses for me as I continue to write and publish.  I need to either earn money from my writing or hold another job while writing to avoid inconvenient things like freezing, having my cats repossessed, and starving.  But I can still dream, can’t I.  In fact, storytellers a thousand years ago or more followed the Socialist model much more closely than we do in the modern world.  Bards and troubadours were given food and lodging at court in exchange for telling their tales to their hosts.

Hmm.  I’d gladly give you a copy of one of my books in exchange for a nice dinner and a room for the night.

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5 thoughts on “Are Self-Published Writers Socialists?

  1. I think self publishing for novelists is a great thing. I have however read a sampling of Nutrition and diet ebooks written by John Doe that had very questionable advice! There were no letters after these people’s name, and no way of verifying that they had the education to write such tomes! So, for fiction, yes, for health related things, no. Luckily, I have enough knowledge of nutrition etc of my own, but there are probably loads of people who will read these because they are free or cheap and perhaps do themselves a harm! (of course, they could do that on the internet anyway!)
    Of course, this is assuming the publisher does actually check on the credentials of the person before publishing the book!

    • Yeah, that’s the one drawback. But I think that as the industry goes forward and changes people will begin to be able to discern between the real deals and the quacks. At least I hope so!

  2. I’m a socialist anyway, but e-publishing does remind me of the early days of the printing press. the pamphlet writing and the spread of socialist thought by people like Blake and others. The bringing of new words and ideas to the masses via printing has a similar revolutionary effect on what people get to read as the e-publishing advent because it takes control from corporations and hands it to the readers.

    • It’s a really exciting time to be a writer, isn’t it. I am amazed every day at the advances in technology and thinking. And I’m really glad I jumped on the boat when I did!

  3. I think that what you are describing is not Socialism, but Individualism. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism) And I am right there with you on that. Socialism usually implies collective action, for example, all authors together voting on how much your book is worth instead of just some publisher doing so.

    For some interesting thoughts on this, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar, which is an article about a book that describes a similar phenomenon in the software development world. The full text is available at http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/index.html. The entire world of open source software as we have it today exists, in large part, because of this book and it is the bible for this world. The world of self publishing as you have described it may also owe it’s existance, at least in part, to this book.

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