Publishing used to work like a funnel. A network of agents, editors and publishers narrowed the mass of manuscripts down by winnowing out those deemed not worthy of publication. Worthiness was and is a socially constructed concept, subject to change as cultural notions of what constitutes good writing change. Yes, there were vanity presses that would publish a book for a hefty fee, but printing a book was a manufacturing process that benefitted from significant economies of scale. Most manuscripts were therefore not published.
This model has changed dramatically with the advent of digital books or ebooks. The relative affordability of digital technology made self-publishing a feasible option for writers. The rise of large online retailers like Amazon and Apple, offers authors a publishing platform that sidesteps the traditional gatekeepers–agents and editors.
On the downside, ebooks aren’t books. They are software. Like software, ebooks a subject to new forms of gatekeeping—digital rights management (DRM) that turns ebooks into items not owned but licensed. An ebook purchased from Amazon or Apple, or any of the other digital retailers can’t be resold, can’t be lent to a friend, can’t legally be read on any device of your choosing, and its license can be revoked.
I’m opposed to DRM and the manner in which it locks up content. I’m also inspired by the examples of Cory Doctorow and Amanda Palmer who’ve decided to make their art available without DRM and for free. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, the biggest threat to a new author is obscurity, not someone copying their book without paying. The publisher of my thriller Legitimate Business is unfortunately locked into Amazon. But Lincoln Road available for download without DRM.
If you like my writing, great, I’m delighted. If you’d like to pay for it, I’d appreciate it very much. If you don’t, that’s fine. No worries. If you want to sample first and come back later to pay, super. It’s up to you.