WIP: Sidetracked … By Freedom of Speech


In the morning, following through the momentum that started with looking into hosting own reviews, I got sidetracked looking into self-hosting my mailing list and adding the option of hosting my own sales. It wasn’t entirely a sidetrack. You could say that it is an essential thing to nail down before I move forward. I’m preparing to launch the next phase, which will hopefully kick things to the next level, and being prepared might mean the difference between crumpling and disappearing in the face of opposition, and turning any opposition to my advantage.

Did I say morning? That took up my whole morning and most of the afternoon.

In the late afternoon, I took my daughter to look at bikes and clothes. I realized that she has spent pretty much every day cooped up with me while I try to work on other things, and that seemed terrible. So we went window shopping. We looked at bikes at the shop and pawn shop down the street, then we took the light rail to what used to be Christown Mall, where we roamed Costco, Bath & Body works, Wal-Mart, shoe stores and sporting goods stores, J.C. Penney, PetsMart, and Target. We had a good time.

When we returned, I went back to looking at self-hosting options. I wanted to move on, but I always prefer to stop at a point where options have been established for the choosing, so my subconscious can work on a decision while I work on something else, and so that I can return to the problem later and pick up cleanly where I left off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to that point until late at night. And that pursuit blocked any work on my books. Oops.

So, you might wonder why this is so important to me. It’s about freedom of speech. Let me explain ….

Simplicity, Censorship, Freedom, and Publishing for Profit

When you want to write and sell books online, you have a choice about how to conduct your business along a spectrum from outsourcing all the technical details and retailing, hosting it all yourself, or something in between. To outsource, you could get a website at one of the drag-and-drop hosts (or none at all); make arrangements with Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble to distribute your books and send you money for it; and promote your business using a mailing list at one of the usual providers. To self-host, you could pay for a shared web host or even operate your own server at your house; you could install and manage a shopping cart program to sell your books; and you could install and manage a mailing list program to promote them.

On one hand, outsourcing the web hosting and mailing list services and only selling through other retailers seems to simplify the work needed to get things done. Just do what you do best and leave the rest to other pros, they say.

On the other hand, outsourcing like that means having your web presence spread across multiple websites and platforms, as well as being dependent on other entities that could knock your business offline on a whim (which is what all modern “terms of service” allow).

The first hand is as far as most authors (or web people in general) ever get, and it’s on that end of the spectrum where I’ve been happy in the name of “simplicity”. But the other hand has been bugging me lately, because I’ve been increasingly unsure that the first hand option really is more simple.

But more importantly, I detest being in a position where anyone else could “shut me down” because they didn’t like my words.

Could that really happen? Of course it could. It does all the time.

People like to think that we in the United States have inviolate freedom of speech, but we don’t. In fact, traditional publishers censor almost every manuscript sent to them, and they are loathe to rock the boat. Small publishers and indie authors can and do write whatever they want, but publishing controversial things is still a risky proposition for a working writer, because of the twin problems of 1) getting books distributed so that people can find them and buy them, and 2) getting paid for them. For instance, Amazon is a very permissive retailer, but even their terms allow them to refuse to publish anything they don’t like, and they can and do remove content when pressured by governments or other entities.

And even if you put books for sale on your own website with your own shopping cart software, there is still the problem of getting paid. Even when people want to pay you, PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, and all the others can be and are regularly pressured to block money from going to people who have offended governments or other powerful entities.

Here’s another thought: every outsourced critical part of your publishing business adds another single point of failure to your enterprise, because it adds another set of people who can either be offended or be pressured by others and terminate their service to you, blocking your ability to publish what you want, at least temporarily.

How free is your speech, really, if you have to make sure what you write doesn’t upset half a dozen or more different groups? We’re not talking about merely offensive speech; I’m talking about anything that big corporations or powerful individuals would prefer not to see printed.

So, if outsourcing parts of your publishing business weakens your position, does self-hosting make you stronger? Yes, it does.

Imagine the power of an author being able to personally host everything necessary to deliver posts, articles, and books to his or her readers, and to accept anything from cash to barter to bitcoin as payment.

That’s appealing to me. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I might, and at any rate I surely want to be less dependent on third parties.

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