Once upon a time thieving bastiches would adulterate gold or silver with cheaper metal and then sell it off to the public as the real thing. Somewhere in about the 13th century French Kings and presumably their subjects got tired of being shafted by merchants (after all shafting is noble prerogative, and if everyone was allowed to do it there’d be no fun in it any more) and introduced the marking of gold and silver ware, which the Brits actually made better if more complicated (which shows that stereotypes have some truth in their origins) meaning that the consumer of said items, suitably marked knew the gold really was gold and not. Ergo, there was a standard to measure quality by.
I was part of discussion the other day where several legacy published authors were lamenting the the unfair price competition that self-published e-books were putting on their obviously superior offerings. Someone – could have been me – pointed out that an unknown at 99 cents was a lot more tempting than an unknown at $19.99.
The howl thence became well ANYONE can put up a book on Kindle and Amazon make no attempt to ensure these books have any kind of quality… culminating in this statement:
“How long will readers keep taking risks and tossing their money away if
those standards aren’t met?”
Hmm. It’s a good question and a bad one. Yes, there really is a flood of books hitting kindle, and anyone who has ever read slush will tell you, 90% of subs are so bad they really are unpublishable, and unreadable.
The issue of course is that of the remaining 10% maybe 0.001% shines so bright that it easy to say ‘that’s good for a lot of readers.’
The other 9.999%… well, one man’s poison is another woman’s meal for her husband. Probably half of those 9.999% have a possibly 10K+ audience somewhere if you can find them. The trouble is finding which half, and winnowing the 10K from 100K sellers.
Historically this was done by a degree of thumb-suck based on experience. An editor who got it wrong too often was fired or his publisher went out of business. Most books from reasonable sized houses had much the same distribution, covers that really didn’t help much and zero marketing. Tested in the fire of the market, publishers works that kept them in business soon sorted those trying to sell dross as gold. A longstanding publisher accepting an author’s work for publication became a sign that it had a certain quality. As only publishers could get the books into bookstores, any book that made it there… had the mark of at least a minimum quality. The numbers sold gave publishers a real handle on what people liked. What’s more, you had a handle on just how many books the book-buying public would read. That ratio directly proportional to the number of literate people, and disposable income remained the same. If your country had a population of x million literate people with an average disposable income of Y, XY(constant)/ average book cost = books sold
Then… came big box chain stores, vast changes in covers, and enormous changes in distribution and of course marketing and promotion. Publishing rejoiced and pushed their pet projects to great success. The trouble was no one in publishing seemed to do basic maths. Or maybe no one had all the figures. But while literate population and disposable income were both increasing fast… the ratio of books per literate reader was dropping. We could talk about reasons and excuses, but no one actually tried to find out why. The answer IMO was that the assay of quality having been masked by distribution marketing and promotion was no longer working. Yes, publishers knew what was selling. But they had no idea just how much of this was due to popularity, and how much was due to marketing et al.
And readers stopped tossing their money away because their standard (which was still a book they enjoyed) wasn’t met.
So I am afraid I’ve reached a very different answer to the young lady author who felt her book was being drowned in the self-pub flood. I think – because the factors that skewed the assay of quality so much are being turfed by e-books, we may finally start getting publishers again who, by buying your book do give it a hallmark. It won’t happen overnight of course. But in time that ratio may actually re-assert itself. In which case… I might not be published, or make living out of writing, but literature will be saved.
It’s a chance I’d rather take than hope that someone in marketing decides I’m one of the cool kids ;-/