Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TMI - What Happens When The Consumer Handles the Slushpile?

On Crimespace today there is a discussion about an article written by yet another publishing industry insider who just can't imagine a world without gatekeepers. The thesis seems to be that the publishing industry has nothing to worry about in the brave new world of ebooks, because (GASP!) the consumer will never be able to handle it when they are inundated with tons of junk among which is only a little good stuff.

You know. Like the way the world has been for ten or twenty years now.

The consumer now deals with a slush pile as a matter of course. Whether it's the web, or cable TV, or the mall, or Amazon dot com, or a grocery store with twenty-five different kinds of tomatoes (not including canned), we've long been in a situation where we have to choose the one thing we want out of thousands of things we don't.

Amazon was built on that principle. They wanted to be the world's largest bookstore - the bookstore with every book in the world. (And now every thing in the world.) Apple's motto for the iPhone - "There's an app for that" - also typifies the consumer experience these days. It's not about sorting out the junk anymore, it's about finding exactly what you want.

That's the thing that traditional publishing doesn't get. We don't actually care about the thousands of books we don't want. We don't care if they are well-written or awful. We only care about finding the books we do want. And we learned to do that a long time ago - word of mouth, browsing a sample, taking a chance once in awhile, using Amazon's suggestion tools, Google searches. (Or for that matter, I'm sure there IS an iPhone app for that if you want one.)

So give us some credit, Publishing Professionals. The slush pile is here, and has been here for a long time. Heck, the stuff you publish is in it, along with the self-published dreck, insane political blogs, cable television, and YouTube videos of cats riding Roombas. You may have a special place in brick and mortar bookstores, but you're on equal footing with "Mittens and his Roving Vacuum" in cyberspace.

The future you fear happened yesterday. We've dealt with it. Maybe it's time you caught up.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I read that article this morning. I enjoyed it and I also like your rebuttal. Very well done!!

Hart Johnson said...

Mittens and his roving vacuum!? *snort* That's beautiful!

I think publishing has gotten conservative because of this fear and so it's true: crap in a tried and true genre is easier to find than a really great book that is a little risky...

That said, I feel like there needs to be SOME quality assurance check. My suggestion (nobody famous has yet picked it up and run with it, but I can keep trying) is an AUTHOR MEMBER review system... books anonymously read and rated by other writers so that READERS have a trusted source to find the gems. Because HONESTLY, world of mouth has as much to do with PR skill as book quality (maybe more) and the MASSES include a lot of people who like drivel I don't. I also think self-publishing leads writers to publish books that MIGHT have ended up really good several drafts too early. So I BUY the need for some sort of gatekeeper and I'm NOT willing to wade through the slush, but I DON'T thing the Publishing Industry Gates should be the only way in. This would allow GOOD books a way to break out.