Monday, May 16, 2011

Upon the Gears of Big Publishing

I gave a presentation in Berkeley yesterday before the Northern California chapter of ASJA (American Association of Journalists and Authors) where I argued that book publishing is a matter of free speech.

Berkeley is where the Free Speech Movement started in 1964. The talk had special meaning to me because my parents (who met at a UC Berkeley dorm dance) were students there at the time, I was born there, and my mom has shared stories of how I attended many of the demonstrations, first in utero and later in a stroller.

One of the most famous speeches at that time, now referred to as "Bodies Upon the Gears," was given by Mario Savio, an early leader of the Free Speech Movement. I embedded it below. Start at the 58 second mark.

I listened to this speech for the first time yesterday morning as I prepared my presentation. I was immediately struck by how Savio's feelings of injustice (he was upset at the University administration for limiting free speech on campus) map so closely to how authors feel. I always thought authors should have the right to publish, but until I watched the video and read up on the origins of the Free Speech Movement, I never fully grokked the connection between book publishing and free speech.

A Tweet or a blog post is free speech, but a book - especially the long form variety - is about the weightiest form of deep-thinking, deep-expressing communication possible.

Big Publishers are in the business of selling books, not publishing authors. They acquire books they think they can sell, as is their right as a business. They say no to most authors, thereby preventing those authors from expressing themselves through the communications vehicle that is their book.

Until recently, if a publisher refused to publish your book, it severely limited your ability to reach readers. Sure, you could self-publish in print, as the great Dan Poynter has been advocating for over 30 years. However, without distribution access to brick and mortar bookstores - something the big publishers controlled - it was difficult for self published authors to reach readers.

The indie ebook revolution has changed all this. Now, the printing press is free and available to all. Indies enjoy the same (or better) distribution opportunities as traditional publishers. Indies can out-compete the big boys.

The Big Publisher gatekeeper-as-curator is being replaced by readers, as it should be.

My challenge to you, the author, is to throw yourself upon the gears of big publishing. Take a stand and say no to others telling you no. If your book is finished, you have the freedom to get it out there now on your own terms as an ebook. Express yourself.

Embedded below are the PowerPoint slides from my presentation. As you'll see, the presentation is an updated derivative of my Indie Author Uprising presentation from a couple months back, minus the Egyptian revolution and plus a Barbie doll surprise.

Upon the Gears of Big Publishing - ASJA May 15, Berkeley, CA
View more presentations from Smashwords, Inc.

May 18 update: A new, updated version of this post is available at The Huffington Post.


D Doyle Reynolds said...

Uh oh. You're reeaaally going for that Blacklist, ain't cha?

Nicely done. Thank you for saying what people have been muttering under the breath for years.


Unknown said...

Video gave me chills! Great post, Mark!


Chris Northern said...

Indeed, and well said.

Publishing was a Water Empire, or Hydrolic Empire if you prefer. The class that absolutely controlled the resource no longer does. It's over.

Isn't freedom grand?

CS McClellan/Catana said...

You're living proof for the argument that it's possible to influence a child while it's still in the womb.

Kate Harper said...

Mark, I'm happy you made the trip up to Berkeley to spend time with us. What you are doing is supporting writers even if sometimes writers resist the great opportunity upon us. I look forward to talking to you more about ebook barcamps or any event that involves supporting the creative writer getting the word out.

Perry Wilson said...

Well, I feel all inspired and reved up. Thanks

Wilson James said...

Wow! I'm inspired, both by you, Mark, and by Mario Savio.

When I started to make my Young Adult fiction titles available as multi-format eBooks with Smashwords back in December 2009, I had no idea that I was on the cutting edge of such a great revolution in free speech for authors.

Now, a year-and-a-half later, with over 10,000 copies of my books in the hands of a great leading wave of readers opting for eBooks, I am excited, thrilled, and energized.


Wendy.b said...


Good for you for making the connection. It's inspiring.

Just because people complain that the massive influx of new writings released by your amazing company makes it challenging to weed out the bits we want to read -- that's no reason to muzzle the writers!

BFuniv said...

There are still limits of free speech on campuses; but now it is political correctness that empowers onerous regulation of expression.

I wonder at future parallels for indie authors? Will social mood dictate allowed behaviors?

When a book can be universally burned at the push of a button, who will control the buttons?

BrotherJoeRadosti said...

Awesome speech. Human beings were meant to be free and will stop at nothing until freedom becomes the realty.

David Sheppard said...

Your post plus the video really does get the blood to boiling. I have degrees from Arizona State and Stanford but still couldn't get a book published. Twelve years ago, I started putting my books up on the Internet, and now I have all five of them in eBooks and paperbacks, all self-published. I just hope we can bring down the entire industry so that all that's left is authors. They've done the world a disservice for decades.

F.A.Ellis said...


JL Bryan said...

Oh, hey. Just stopping by to thank Mark for accelerating the Meatgrinder conversion so much! Great work, and thanks!

Logan Lee said...

Just want to say thank you Smashwords for giving me the opportunity that you have! Have been waiting (as patiently as I could) since I started publishing through you in January and just got the first awesome sales update! For all you writers out there who are new to Smashwords; be patient. The reporting process takes time but it'll be worth it!