“Virtue, then, is a kind of moderation inasmuch as it aims at the mean or moderate amount.”
– Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.
Being a philosophy major, I’m of the opinion that the great thinkers of the past have something important to say about every aspect of life, even our modern life. As such, I hope you’ll humor me as I open this talk on a decidedly modern topic – the opportunities for independent publishers in this digital book revolution – by talking about Aristotle and the Golden Mean.
For Aristotle, virtue or excellence is that trait which, when possessed in the right amount, keeps something in good condition, and allows it to perform its function well. One of the key phrases there is “possessed in the right amount” – Aristotle believed that virtue could only be found at some optimal point between two extremes, that of excess and that of deficiency. To use the most common example, the virtue of courage is found between the two extremes of cowardice and recklessness.
What does this have to do with publishing? Right now, publishing is defined by two extremes. First are the Big Publishers, the ones with substantial investment in the old status quo of print books, the entities with big-name authors, enviable capital and long-standing connections with distributors and media outlets. At the second extreme are the Self-Publishers, a class of authors which have always been with us – for authors, such as Aristotle himself, were releasing their works to the public long before third-party publishers existed – but who have in the past been stigmatized, as well as sidelined from the most lucrative types of commerce by an inability to match the scale of access and distribution available to Big Publishing. (In the Philippines, the most visible form of self-publishing – social networking aside – is the burgeoning indie komiks [comics] scene.)
Of course, “in the past” here must be taken to mean B.T.I. – Before The Internet. While I would not go so far as to say that the playing field has been leveled – although I’d argue that it is on its way there – the fact that the publishing landscape has been irrevocably altered cannot, at this point, be doubted.
“Nothing endures but change.”