What does one mean when they say, “publish?” If you do a search for the word on Google, the top result is:
(of an author or company) prepare and issue (a book, journal, piece of music, or other work) for public sale.
It makes me smile that a company that makes its money off monetizing content presents the definition of publish, purely as preparing a work for public sale. Google is not alone in serving up this definition. Four of the dictionaries I was able to easily search online gave me similar results.
This has not always been the top definition.
If you want to see a shift in the definition, you need only look back in time. In the past, public sale had nothing to do with the word publish. In dictionaries from just a few decades ago, we see definitions akin to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
make publicly known, reveal, divulge, announce.
– Online Etymology Dictionary
So not too long ago, the idea of publishing was not completely intertwined with the concept of making money.
But it is now. It is deeply intertwined. So what do we call it when you are publishing for the public with no intention of making a sale?
We see this happening all the time on the web. Many people passionately publish, expressing their expertise and informing readers with no intention of making money. Does the term, publish, appy to them?
Of course it does, we use it interchangeably, but doing so seems unfair. They are truly publishing. They are making things publicly known.
Perhaps this is a bit too bold a statement, but EVERYONE else is selling something.
While the net result for those sales might benefit the public good, it still takes published material and turns it into a commodity.
Once it became a commodity, then the system for attracting money to that commodity becomes more important than the commodity itself. That is why click-bait style material still dominates the internet with no sign of letting up.
It is not clear how we can separate the the monetized vs. the un-monetized, but it should start with words. So to borrow a term used in many other industries, I would like to start using the term release for anything that intended for public sale and publish for anything else.
While this is not something likely to catch on, it would demonstrate that the majority of material on the internet is being released. While a a shrinking minority is being published.
What does this prove?
It proves that information and news needs protection. If it all becomes releasable commodities, then the more of it we have, the less valuable it comes. Since modern technology and AI will allow us to release a virtually limitless amount of this commodity, it will continue to lower the price and quality will suffer.
Okay. Cue the dramatic music.
We need to agree that a difference exists based solely on the intention of the person or organization. Why we publish matters. It will ultimately determine the future of what we read.
Companies and organization are busily trying to establish new paradigms that empower publishers of all types. Syndication methods like RSS and organizations like the Internet Archive are two bright spots that are helping to preserve and distribute what people decide to publish in a free and open way.
One can only hope that future generations will benefit from the work being done now and they will reclaim and enshrine the idea of publishing as making things publicly known once again.