Forbes article on indie publishing

There’s an interesting article in Forbes on self-publishing. For once, the author seems to have investigated the case before regurgitating what he heard from someone—usually a disgruntled someone from traditional publishing—who doesn’t know anything. All the same, there are two weak spots in the piece:

1. His take on the Big Six’s business model. I don’t want to get into the analysis. Suffice to say, whenever someone claims to spot a major defect the business model adopted by an entire industry—one that went completely unnoticed by that industry—I call bullshit.

2. He predicts that the slush problem will be fixed by Amazon and B&N hiring reviewers. As if. They’re never going to hire real reviewers to pan books. That’s like Walmart putting a critic next to the greeter to warn people off its less than wonderful merchandise. On top of that, how many authors are going to tolerate being panned by their distributor? None. And how many consumers are going to believe an in-house critic? Even fewer. As it is, the “Vine” reviewers are a joke. They churn out copy to keep the freebies coming.

A third problem is the one ignored by most indies and misstated by most defenders of tradition publishing. The fact is that a large swath of the culture industry lives off the Big Six’s largess. Once they stop investing in books culture—they won’t disappear—the culture around books will probably die.

I hear the objection all ready: “Book bloggers and other social media outlets will take over from traditional periodicals, so don’t get yourself worked up.” Dream on. Book bloggers have no interest whatsoever in panning books—they don’t need the backlash. If they haven’t figured it our already, they’ll stick to books they like and ignore the rest.

But bad books—and criticism more generally—are also part of the book culture. Lose that and you lose everything but puffery and mutual masturbation: “Wow! This book is unbelievable! I wish I could forget it just to experience for the first time all over again!”

Anyway, that’s how I see it.


2 thoughts on “Forbes article on indie publishing

  1. I agree with many of the points you make. When I see a negative “vine” review, I give it more weight than I give to positive “vine” reviews. Also, as a blogger, I do post negative reviews (though I prefer to write reviews of books I like) and I’ve seen others who do it also, but negative reviews are relatively rare. I think the threat of blacklash is a real one, but there is also a risk to authors of looking petty and childish if they attack those who critcize their work. There’s nothing to prevent them from doing it anonymously, but I would hope that consumers can see through a petty anonymous attack. Legitimate criticism will still come from people who blog because they are interested in discussing books rather than using their blog as a marketing vehicle for their own works (that’s where a blacklash would hurt the most).

  2. Thanks for your perceptive comments. I’ll expand a little on my remarks.

    1. Vine. I sound pretty harsh on Vine. But most Vine reviewers look like they phone it in on a regular basis. I’ve seen reviews of books where the author either didn’t read the book or was in no position to comment on it.

    2. Reviews. Traditionally, the magazine paid the reviewer, so the only incentive he had was to give good reviews. Book bloggers’ only compensation (for the most part) is free books. If they regularly pan books, it won’t take long for the source to dry up. That creates what economists call a perverse incentive.

    The second major problem with not getting paid to review books—one which you seem to have noticed—is that there’s no point reading a book you don’t like only to put up with the flack from disgruntled authors.

    3. Blogs and book culture. You’re probably right that some book bloggers have the time and the interest to really discuss books for their own sake. They get it. They understand that criticism—in the broad sense of that term—has value and it enriches the experience of reading. But I haven’t seen many of these blogs. Maybe I’ll have to check out yours!

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