“The book market be flooded with bad books,” said the Bookstore Man!

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The following comment was left on John Ottinger’s Grasping For the Wind.  Specifically, I left it on a guest post by R. L. Copple entitled “Wading Through the Crap,” which is an interesting take on the “there will be so much crap” anti-self-publishing argument.  I take some issue with the logic, even if I now also take issue with the anti-SP argument being refuted, but the post is interesting enough to check out on your own (which I expect you all to do; go on, leave some comments!)

Here’s what I had to say:

This post is just as riddled with fallacies, which is ironic when you argue that the post linked at the start is equally plagued by them. 

Two examples: 

1. You say: “Now let’s say with the explosion of indie books, it adds 20,000 new titles to the pile each year, giving the reader a total of 30,000 new books to browse through. And let’s say the average reader will only like 2% of those books, meaning among those 20,000 indie books, they would have 400 books they would enjoy reading if they came across them. That means among the 30,000 books they could wade through, there would be 900 they would pick up if they came across them, which amounts to a 3% chance of finding a book they like instead of 5%. If that scenario was true, it would mean it grew a tad harder to find a book the reader likes, but only by 2%.” 

While a 2% decrease seems minor, in the grand scheme of book “finding,” it’s not. When you take into account the time, energy, and other variables that go into book “finding,” that 2% decrease is substantial, particularly since it represents a 40% reduction in possibility. That’s nothing to scoff at. You’re using numerical trickery here to suggest something that isn’t such a big deal, but you leave out the primary thing that makes readers very unlikely to buy anything whatsoever: wasting their time. Even a 1% (or 20%) decrease would put off a substantial number of readers who simply can’t be bothered to put in the extra effort to find something they may or may not like (which, let’s face it, even when you take into account the various ways readers come to books, and, thus, choose them, that doesn’t include the time and effort it takes for that reader to actually discover if they got the right book; this implies that your model must take into account the percentage of occurrences in which a reader found a book, but discovered upon reading that it wasn’t to their liking — contrary to popular belief in self-publishing circles, most readers aren’t willing to read huge previews and the like; if you’re lucky, they’ll read a page or two, which explains why publishers are so adamant about those first few pages, even today). 

2. You spend a lot of time talking about slush piles and how readers see the demise of the slush pile as something good for them, since it means there will be more good books to find. The problem with this is that you earlier argue that the publication form is one of the least relevant methods by which readers come to books, and, thus, a direct contradiction of your earlier sentiments. 

Now, setting aside the lack of statistical support for most of what we’re talking about (nobody really knows how many readers care about the publisher and how many don’t, etc. only anecdotal evidence that suggests they avoid SPed books in bookstores), you still have the problem here of turning readers into slush readers. I hate everything to do with this concept, because the moment you make it my job as a reader to do a job other people should be doing and getting paid for (publishers, reviewers, editors, and related people, some of which may be related to non-traditional publishing models) is the moment you take all the joy out of reading, after which I’ll simply stop buying books. I’m not kidding. I will stop buying books completely, with the exception of things printed from the previous era of publishing. I have no incentive as a reader to participate in a system that wants me to do extra effort to find what I want. Most other markets don’t do this to me; in reality, most other markets have made it *easier* for me to find what I want to consume (think super stores, malls, online music stores with really good recommendation features, online music sites for streaming music, etc. etc etc etc etc etc). Yet it’s only in the book publishing world that we talk about making the consumer the worker. 

I wouldn’t be going out on a limb if I said a lot of readers who have recently come to routine reading would be equally inclined to leave the whole thing behind. Easy access isn’t necessarily a good thing (at least, it comes with consequences). It’s all about coupling easy access with tools that help the consumer find what they want without creating additional effort. The fact that SPers (and indies, trads, and other publishing models) are talking about a future which makes the consumer an unpaid intern is the most bizarre kind of archaic logic to me…

Don’t tell me what you think on this post, though.  Go respond to me and Mr. Copple on John’s blog.  It’s an interesting discussion to have, methinks, even if I have made similar arguments elsewhere on this blog.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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