Looks like we’ve gone about as far as we can go. Now that we have made just about everything that can be made, a mature capitalism shifts from the making of things towards providing services. Publishing always featured a distressing lack of metal-bashing — we production and manufacturing types would migrate to the end of the operation closest to such physicality — the nearest an editor would get to physicality was reshelving a book! From time to time manufacturing staff would even get to visit a printing plant and admire all that iron being put through its oily paces. Reassuringly we did at least deal in solid physical objects. Now, however, the emphasis is moving away from the tangible and towards the digital. We still manage to keep in touch, thanks to the fact that nowadays publishers have to make both printed books and ebooks simultaneously. But more and more “real” stuff keeps getting away from us, and being farmed out to freelance workers or service companies. I suspect there isn’t any category of publishing work (senior management excepted), which in one company or another you couldn’t find being handled by freelance workers.

Our residual hands-on fix might turn out to be facilitating for self published writers who’d like not to have to do for themselves those activities we have become so good at managing. Should publishers get into providing services to Uncle Tom Cobley and all? Established publishing houses have at various times tried to offer services to self-publishing authors, and while this does all help to spread the overhead costs, it can probably never be a large business as it just doesn’t fit well with the way publishing companies are set up. More likely seems to me to be the increasing freelance-ification and outsourcing of the production side of the book business, leaving publishers with little or no capacity to offer others. Of course one trend feeds the other: as publishers lay off staff in the production area, so more freelance workers become available both to self-publishers and to the very publishing companies that made the lay-offs in the first place. For the bosses, a win-win: no more pesky people getting unnecessary luxuries like paper clips, health-care, pensions and salaries — lots of hungry freelance workers breaking down your doors to do any kind of work on your terms.

See also Plus ça change