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Is self-published fiction becoming fail-safe?

… and by “fail-safe” I mean safe to fail with minimal consequences. That’s the question I’m wondering about after viewing this Cory Doctorow lecture a couple of weeks ago:

The transcript can be found here: http://craphound.com/cambridge_biz_lectures.txt

A few key quotes:

The Internet turns out to be much better at allowing people to form groups than it is at allowing people to copy. … The dream of universal access to all human knowledge – the notion that we can take pieces of information, stick them on the Internet and that they can pervade every corner of the world, almost instantaneously.

This is a pretty amazing thing, and it’s understandable that we got very, very, very excited about this, but the thing that the Internet is even better at than providing universal access to all human knowledge is nuking collaboration costs – getting rid of the cost of getting people together to do stuff, and getting people together to do stuff is even more important that universal access to all human knowledge, because getting people together to do stuff is what allows us to be literally superhuman.

And this is fantastic, because it used to be that if something was likely to turn out to be shit, you couldn’t do it, and if you did do it, you certainly couldn’t do it in a way that would be reachable by other people.  The cost of failing was so high that you had to be reasonably certain of some form of success before you’d venture to do anything.

Most of the things that we now think of today as very successful and interesting at one point were thought of as ridiculous, and it was only someone who was confident enough that the cost of failure was outweighed by the potential benefit of success that allowed these things to come into existence; from the archway to the railroad, to lighter-than-air travel – every one of these at one point was pooh-poohed as probably a ridiculous notion, certainly never to catch on, and it was only the fact that someone was convinced they could afford to fail that allowed these things to come into existence.

This ability to fail with little consequence makes me wonder if self-publishing will take off pretty soon. I was messing around over the weekend with feedbooks.com while investigating the epub format. I was surprised to come across Doctorow’s short story “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” on this site. Since he’s made the story open source it is now spreading out across the web and accumulating its own communities. This makes me wonder what value publishing houses are even offering anymore. Walking through Barnes & Noble this weekend I was struck by how dead it feels. The Science Fiction section is slowly being taken over by fan fiction (star wars and Forgotten Realms, etc.) and it was really difficult to get excited about anything.

When you combine the new ebook formats (epub, mobi, kindle, etc.), the increasing number of platforms available for access (like the Kindle, Sony PRS505, blackberry, palm pilot, and iPhone/iPod Touch) with the inherent viral qualities of the Internet I’m wondering what downsides there are to self publishing? Plus, reading Doctorow’s short story on a laptop using Adobe’s Digital Editions was actually a fairly pleasant experience.

If the cost of publishing continues its trajectory towards zero, the potential for, and ease of, creating reader communities continues to increase, AND the social-proof value of publishing house sponsorship diminishes, then it’s quite possible that self-published fiction will really take off.

**UPDATE**

This isn’t really fiction, but I think furthers the question: 20 free ebooks about social media

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Digital Outrigger / Web Fiction on 01-Oct-08 at 7:13 pm

    [...] a follow-up to a recent post on self-publishing fiction, I just ran across this promising website called the Web Fiction Guide. [...]

  2. [...] public links >> doctorow Is self-published fiction becoming fail-safe? Saved by REDNECKPEPI64 on Tue 21-10-2008 Cory Doctorow on “Affordable Failure” Saved by [...]

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