Of Silos and Sheep

Early in our self-publishing careers we faced a decision of profound consequence. Many self-publishers gave it nary a thought—deferred to hearsay and crowd prejudice. Many weren’t even aware that they have a choice.

But it’s never too late.

In posts to come I’ll show why and how to reverse that fateful decision with least possible disruption, discomfort, and pain but—far-reaching up-side.

Stated bluntly, most of us made the decision early on between shackles and freedom.

Consider towering grain silos along a well-traveled stretch of rural highway.

Silos protect the harvest from ravages of wind and weather by confining kernels of grain in dark towers—seeds destined for the feedlot or mill; never to sprout in fertile soil.

Or consider sheep in a field.

Sheep on a well-managed farm live a good life. The farmer feeds and protects them, provides shelter and heath care. Life is good up to the moment of slaughter.

In the first case seeds bursting with nascent life are protected, but then cut short of full flower in the sole interests of farmer, silo owner, flour mill, and feedlot operators.

In the second instance, sheep unwittingly forfeit agency and life to discretion of their master.

Life is good in both cases—until it’s not.

I’m talking here about software tools. No, software tools are not a matter of life nor death. But, fact is, the tools we adopt to publish our books define the outer limits of our creativity and horizons. They impose tradeoffs between allegedly ease-of-use and expressive power. They waste our time or not.

I’m talking about the choice between proprietary restricted-license commercial software and free, open-source software.

It’s a matter of limits—what we can and can’t do with our expensive computer hardware.

It’s about deliberately crippled hardware, functionally locked-in software, and data privacy.

But past is past. We still have a choice.

Proprietary commercial operating systems and application software offers many benefits:

  • Documentation and well-written user manuals
  • Help desks
  • Extensive user communities
  • Some degree of liability protection
  • Possibly came pre-installed on your laptop

Free and open-source software[^open source] is more like a sustainable food forest [^food forest] than industrial agriculture.

Open-source software, though much of world-class quality, is unruly. Requires prior knowledge and aforethought; willingness to experiment and learn.

## Free Software?

“Free software” means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.”[^free software]

## Open Source?

Free with license-imposed conditions.

## The Choice?

The choice comes down to who has agency—that is, power to do what.

No doubt one can do fine work with propriety commercial software and, for many self-publishers, that’s all they need to meet their needs.

But the corporate hardware manufacturers and publishers of commercial software prioritize profit over user freedom.

Certain hardware manufacturers enclose the user in comfortable, but confining, silos. They restrict applications that can run on their systems, limit cross-platform interoperability.

Commercial software vendors dictate features available in their software. They snoop on user data; may encode user data in difficult-to-transfer proprietary formats. They extract license fees; lock out access to source code.

Find a bug? Good luck until the next, possibly expensive, product release—a release that may well introduce new bugs and possibly break backward compatibility of user data.

Don’t get me wrong. Open-source software is no walk-in-the-park. But in my experience, it’s the only viable choice for our Publishing Empire in a Box. I’m looking to throw off shackles, limitations, and break out of the same-ol’ same-‘ol box.

And the good news: It’s not either or.

We’ll deep-dive into the why and how of free open-source software for self-publishers  in posts to come.

[^free software]:  What is Free Software?, https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html