Yet again, Sarah's got me thinking... Yeah, I know. It's dangerous.
Anyway, some time back, Howard Bloom in Global Brain described societies as being composed of conformity enforcers, diversity generators, inner-judges, resource shifters and intergroup tournaments. Ideally, the five elements are more or less balanced, with the resource shifters (which don't need to be people) "rewarding" the successful (for whatever value of success) and "penalizing" the unsuccessful, and the inner-judges constantly evaluating where anyone stands in the social hierarchy. The intergroup tournaments are - metaphorically - what shakes the hierarchy and changes the internal rankings.
Ever since then, I've been seeing the effects everywhere - and Sarah's post is a pretty good summary of what happens when the conformity enforcers have absolute control. One fits the prevailing model of what should be, or effectively does not exist.
Most people are conformist - it's the human norm to want to be part of a group, any group. Conformity also offers a lot of mutual support and protection. What tends to happen is that rewards within a group flow to those who conform to the group's norms, unless the diversity generators happen on some new source of wealth or inter-group success and either spawn off a new group (colonize something or create a new press) or shift the norms of the old group.
It doesn't matter how big the group is, either, or who's in it. If you gather all the innovators and put them in a group, you'll quickly get a new set of conformists.
What does that have to do with publishing and writing? Simply, after a long period of decline masked as stability, there's an explosion of change in process. The last two conventions I attended, micro-presses were respectable. So were ebook-only presses. Most of the low-end mid list authors I spoke to are involved with small presses in some way - some editing for them, some running them. And what used to be the mainstream was hardly visible at all.
In Bloom's terms, the diversity generators have broken past the wall and are actively trying out anything and everything they can think of. Some of it will work, some won't. There's no way to tell which experiments will work out - and there won't be for quite some time.
All of which is a really roundabout way to say that we're in the middle of "interesting times" and they're only going to get more interesting. The only thing that's obvious is that the losers will be the ones who were on top in the old system.
Thoughts, comments, raspberries? (with cream, please).