BoSacks: No B.S.: What is a Publisher?
Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Salon, Gawker, Gizmodo, Tech Crunch, Yahoo, Google and many thousands of others—are they publishers? I have to suggest that at least Google, which creates nothing original and repurposes a multitude of reading material, is at best a re-publisher, usually known as an aggregator. Does the act of aggregation bestow the coveted mantle of publisher?
Reader’s Digest was once a printed aggregator of non-original repurposed authorship. If Reader’s Digest in an analog world was an accepted and successful publisher, should we throw Google some leniency here and, as a digital aggregator, also bestow on them the vaunted title of publisher?
What I’m interested in is this: is there any place where we draw the line with the term publisher? Does anyone who distributes words on any substrate get to be called a publisher? Radio stations don’t call themselves publishers. Is that because their words are audio only? TV stations don’t call themselves publishers. Is that because they only distribute visuals and sounds?
Let’s try to apply a traditional definition of what a publisher was in the past and see if it works in today’s radically different world. In the past a publisher was in some sense a broker or a middleman between the writer of original work and the public. A publisher had the infrastructure and the bank account to distribute an author’s work, without the writer having to finance and build his own network. Authors didn’t usually have the pocketbook and wherewithal to get their words to the public for a profit. The publisher did the dirty work of converting the writer’s material from manuscript to press to physical distribution, and handling the ongoing collection of funds that goes with that process. The author received an agreed recompense for their hard work and thinking.
I guess the question distills down to the substrate. If only the substrate is different in the present from past business relationships, than perhaps almost anyone with any way to distribute words to the public is indeed a publisher. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this subject. PE