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The democratisation of publishing (and a bit of Clay Shirky for good measure)

A brandspanking new Meanland post:

The idea that the printing press democratised reading, writing and ideas is widely embraced. This is not to suggest it was – or remains in its internet incarnation – politically progressive or, indeed, revolutionary. Matthew Battles reminds us:

The printing press never only produced the kind of deep reading we admire and privilege today. It also produced propaganda and misinformation, penny dreadfuls and comic books offensive to public morality, pornography, self-help books, and much that was generally despised and rejected by polite culture. Any account of the history of “The Gutenberg Era” that lacks these is incomplete — just as any picture of the Internet that privileges LOLcats and 4chan is insufficient. We must consider both — for pornography, misinformation, and sheer foolishness have thrived from the age of incunables to the advent of the Internet.

Yet it did bring the written word to the people.

During this current age, one of increasing mass literacy – which is unparalleled when we pause to reflect that never before have more people across the globe had the capacity to read and write and actually are reading and writing – it has been suggested that whereas the printing press democratised ‘the written word,’ the internet has democratised publishing itself. In other words, we find ourselves in a time of (potential) universal publishing or content production for anyone who owns or has access to a computer. And the internet. Which, despite their ubiquity, still belong to the realm of the privileged.

‘Here’s what the Internet did,’ posits Shirky, ‘it introduced, for the first time, post-Gutenberg economics. The cost of producing anything by anyone has fallen through the floor. And so there’s no economic logic that says that you have to filter for quality before you publish’.

Read the rest of my piece over at Meanland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jacinda Woodhead is the editor of Overland. Her PhD research examined abortion politics in Australia and nonfiction as political intervention.

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