Sunday, November 17, 2013

Opening the Gate

As I like to tell my students when I teach HEL (our fond name for History of the English Language), there have been three important revolutions in human history:

  • the agricultural revolution
  • the industrial revolution
  • the information revolution

And we're still in the middle of the last one.  Maybe it started in the 14th century, with the invention of the printing press; maybe it didn't really start until 1970, with the creaky beginnings of the internet.  Whenever you think it started, it's hopping now.

Even if we count the printing press as the start, the internet is a game changer.

Clearly the printing press was also a game changer -- before that, information was difficult to disseminate, in that copies of all data were expensive in terms of labor and material to produce. Comparatively few texts were made, and those that did get made tended to be of a standard, conservative set.

Once the printing press existed, many more texts are created; but we still have gate-keepers: those who own the press want (almost universally) to profit from what they print: Press owners are unlikely to print what they cannot sell.

This is not always true.  Non-profits and university presses exist.  But these are also gate-keepers in their way.  They also determine a canon, sometimes even more zealously than the profiteering presses.

Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with profiting!  Lovely centuries of work came from privately owned and publicly owned presses!  Who would deny it?  But it was a gate, and writers did have to get through it, and was a limiting factor.

Now the internet exists.  And the game has changed.  Now it's possible for anyone who has access and is literate (or, sometimes, even only semi-literate) to publish texts.

According to Alexis Ohanian, who was on the Colbert Report the other night talking about his book Without Their Permission, more money was given to the arts through Kickstarter last year than through the NEA.

And more and more often now, small presses publish the important texts; indie journals are the source of what is most interesting.  The Big Six are still making the big deals, but they're also publishing old news.  Everything important that's happening in the art world tends to happen elsewhere.

Which is why I'm here to say:  Give money to the indies. Buy the small presses, fund the kickstarters, fund the start-ups.

Crossed Genres needs funding right now.  So kick in if you can.  They're doing excellent work as always, publishing new writers, women writers, writers of color, LGBT writers.

But fund whoever you can, whenever you can.  Fund the revolution, y'all.

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