Will self-published books become the new blogs?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Salon's Laura Miller says that once every aspiring writer can skip the editorial gatekeepers and self-publish, the reading public will be introduced to the mind-numbing reality of the slush pile:

What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?

The most common argument in favor of self-publishing books (and the most favored by authors of these books) is that it levels the playing field between mega-publishers and the little guy. This is true in a technical sense. Anyone can produce a professional-looking book now with a few bucks and a modicum of technical knowledge. But this puts the little guy on the same level with Random House in the same way blogs "compete" with The New York Times. Yes, your Wordpress blog is technically just as accessible as the Times website, but there's a reason people visit the latter first: trust, and a long history of editorial quality.

Miller senses this too, and quotes former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg on the comparison to blogs (he should know, he wrote a book about them):

I recently confided my worries on this account to former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg, but he was unperturbed. In the near future, he assured me, "'publication' will become meaningless." If anyone can "publish" by forking over a few bucks to produce a paperback or e-book, then doing so won't be any more special than, say, printing out the manuscript on your Deskjet and running off a few copies at Kinko's. Readers will be saved from wading through slush by amateur authorities -- bloggers and other pundits specializing in particular subjects or genres -- who will point their followers to the best books. "People will find new ways to decide which books merit their attention."

I read blogs every day, and I've learned about all of them through recommendations from friends and links from journalists and media folks whose judgment I've come to trust. Usually, I need to land on a blog a half dozen times or so this way before I decided to start going there on my own. If self-published books are the new blogs, then I suspect we'll find them the same way, by reputation. Quality content, not mere availability, is still king.