DIY

Regarding the tablet and Apple’s rumored future as a merchant of content, here’s something I’d like:

An easy way for people who write, draw, play, and combine all of these, to publish their work to a simple, popular, digital store serving a device ideal for reading; a publishing equivalent of the App Store.

A way for the countless great deviantART illustrators, webcomic makers, and NaNoWriMo hopefuls to package their work and sell it with few roadblocks in their way. (Pretend for a moment that Apple’s approval process is largely reasonable.) A middle ground between iPhoto books and a book deal; a digital Lulu.com for the masses.

Let’s say you’ve written a short story. (You’re still working on your first novel; courage!) As a piece of entertainment and education, it’ll enrich about twenty minutes of someone’s life. That’s worth 99c in my book. You write this in Pages, perhaps using the app’s writer-friendly full-screen mode, and lay it out using Apple’s elegant templates. You publish it to the, err, Media Store - hey, I’m no ad wizard - where it’s checked for plagiarism, validated for formatting integrity, and placed in your desired category. Congratulations! you’re an almost-self-published writer. Tell your friends, blog about it, buy ad space. Whether you make millions on your story or not, you’re better off than when it just sat on your hard drive.

Such an easy system would have a dark side: with no editors or other barriers to entry, terrible art and unbearable writing would litter your electronic bookstore. And that’s ok; your physical bookstore is no better. There will always be crap, as there ever was. You think the App Store is full of junk? Take a trip five years in the past and browse your local Best Buy’s software shelves. This isn’t just unavoidable - it’s not all bad either. If bunches of hairy teens hadn’t been able to release parent-maddening records in the 50s (and the 60s, and 70s, and 80s…) you’d still be listening to Bing Crosby. The three-chord democracy of rock’n’roll has left in its trail the corpses of many a crappy record.

The point would be to make publishable things that would otherwise be unpublishable for reasons other than quality; just as brick-and-mortars would be reluctant to sell five-minute cellphone games, so booksellers aren’t itching to stock some random girl’s poetry, even if it is the next A Confederacy of Dunces.

This is mostly idealistic nonsense, of course. There may not be much money in micro-publishing of this sort. Apple is far more likely to be happy enough to get the New York Timeses and Newsweeks of the world to sign up. They may not hate the little guy, but they may not want to bend down to help him either.

And yet… Tell me, am I crazy or did one of Steve Jobs’ keynotes about movies on iTunes - back when this first happened - include a bit on the artsy French movie The Diving Bell and The Butterfly? Didn’t he say it was great how you could discover lesser-known movies like that on iTunes? The cynical position is that he had to play this as a strength, given the weak selection of movies on the store. But I don’t think Steve is opposed to indie efforts; he just doesn’t want to hang Apple’s future on them.

So if the big names are accounted for, if the newspapers and magazines and DC Comics and Penguin and HarperCollins are in the bag, I hope Apple can, when they’re not busy doing other things, find a spare minute to completely revolutionize and democratize the publishing industry. There may be money in that too.