In all the Web2.0 talk of removing barriers between creators and audience, the role of 'publisher' is often considered a dark ages legacy, fit to be abolished. But the role of editor rarely is invoked, and I think that's a mistake. Yes, the editor is the bane to writers, but they are a hidden blessing to readers.
A writer cannot edit their own work. At a certain point, the writer is just too close to it. The writer always know what he/she meant, but the real issue is whether the reader can figure it out. The editor is the last, great hope for reader comprehension. How, in a new media economy, will editors be paid?
In the 'no more dead tree' age, there are proponents who say writers and musicians should reach directly to their audience, often providing works for free. They can then make money on the back end, selling t-shirts or concert tickets or asking directly for donations. And there are many success stories in this vein.
For example, on the site Techdirt, Mike Masnick has excellent coverage of real-world cases of alternative revenue streams. Here's a sampling. Go ahead, read them, then come back here. I'm not in a hurry. (Heck, if you read last Friday's entry, you know I'm really really not in a hurry.)
- Connecting With Fans, Offering A Reason To Buy Works For Movies As Well (Jun 23rd 2009)
- Success Stories From The Music Commerce Frontier (Jun 22nd 2009)
- And Here Come The Attacks On 'Free' Economics (May 22nd 2009)
- The Web, Creativity And Commerce: The Blurry Line Between Creativity And Ownership (May 15th 2009)
- Author Offers Free Copy Of His Book To Anyone Who Writes An Amazon Review (Apr 22nd 2009)
- Finding That Free Lunch (Apr 7th 2009)
Editor's don't own their works. Editor's don't profit directly from a bestseller. They don't get residuals or royalties. They don't get money from options for the screenplay. Editors often don't get a byline. So how do you pay people to ensure that good writing, spewing mightily from the natural savant's pen, is made great?
A good editor can handle several writers at once, so they are time-efficient. In academia, many journal editors are volunteers, and it's seen as a career position much like committee membership and conference organizing. 'Zines use volunteer editors, who take up the role in order to do networking. So it may be the future just says "find free editors". This is not encouraging, however.
Alternately, a writer can pay for a proofer or copy editor. However, writers don't typically pay to be published (Macdonald's law: money should flow to the author.) I don't think we can simultaneously expect writers to give their content for free, and pay for the privilege of doing so.
So I still see a problem with the Web2.0 concept of eliminating the publisher/cartel middleman, because there are services we take for granted that publishers bring to the table. Web2.0 can trim the middle and allow direct dissemination, but I fear it won't reach its potential unless we can move from the 'lone creator' model and into a team effort.
Having read this work, don't you too wish I'd had an editor?
Alex, the daytime astronomer