Publishing Isn’t A Job Anymore: It’s A Button
Tim Lee points us to a really fantastic (as per usual) discussion with Clay Shirky about media disruption, in which he makes the key point that publishing is no longer a job, but a button:
Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.
In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install.
Now, of course, publishing as a profession means more than just making public, but that is the root of it, and Shirky is absolutely right that that role is changing completely — and that means that the industries that built themselves up by glorifying their ability to be a gatekeeper in making things public are going to struggle to adapt. There certainly are other important roles, but they’re not “publishing” per se.:
The question isn’t what happens to publishing — the entire category has been evacuated. The question is, what are the parent professions needed around writing? Publishing isn’t one of them. Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers. Will we have a movie-studio kind of setup, where you have one class of cinematographers over here and another class of art directors over there, and you hire them and put them together for different projects, or is all of that stuff going to be bundled under one roof? We don’t know yet. But the publishing apparatus is gone. Even if people want a physical artifact — pipe the PDF to a printing machine.
When you think about it, this really does hit on the key point of disruption for so many of the industries we talk about today. The main role that the gatekeepers had was in helping to “make your work public.” But that role isn’t needed any more (nor is there any real gate any more). You can make anything public that you want and reach the entire world. Of course, there are still plenty of other things — making it better, promoting it, monetizing it, etc. And all of those roles are very important, but the role of making something public was the only one that really had that gate. And since there was that gate, the gatekeeper could control everything and demand total ownership over the work. That’s what we’ve seen for centuries.
The difference today is that the gates are gone, the need for help to make something public is gone, and those other things — publicity, improving the product, monetizing, etc. — can all be done by lots of organizations, rather than just a few. Thus, there is no need for gatekeepers, but (once again), it’s all about the enablers. The enablers help make your work better, but still leave you and the work at the center. The gatekeepers stripped your work from you for a pittance. It’s a very different world, but it’s a much better world for creators — and it all comes back to the fact that publishing is no longer a job, but a button.
- Clay Shirky: How we will read, and how we will publish (nextlevelofnews.com)
- Clay Shirky: Publishing no longer a job, but a button (teleread.com)
- Publishing is no longer a job or an industry – it’s a button (gigaom.com)
- Your Business is Being Disrupted. What Are You Doing About It? (socialmediaexplorer.com)
- The Failure of the Gatekeepers (teleread.com)
- Opportunity & The Fall Of The Gatekeepers (A-List Death Redux) (jimkukral.com)
- Go forth and be bold (madgeniusclub.com)
- Striking Back at Amazon (chiefwritingwolf.com)