Should Indie Writers "pay to play"?
March 5, 2012
R. S. Guthrie has opened a can of worms about quality control in the world of indie writing.
The can needed opening.
On February 17, 2012, in his Friday blog on Rob on Writing, Guthrie said that he would welcome the day when Amazon decided to charge indie authors to put their books on the site. Here’s the way he phrased it:
Imagine if it cost, let’s say, $500 to publish your first digital book online. And then, say, $100 for every book after that, thus giving a break to bona fide authors—”bona fide” being defined by me as “serious writers”, not necessarily a guarantee of quality there either, but we’re talking about people who have been writing (or wanting to write) all their lives, trying seriously to get published; these are the same writers who in the traditional market were/are submitting their writing even at the cost of facing rejection after rejection.
Back to imagining: A $500 initial investment to put that first book on the digital shelves. How big a reduction do you think we’d see in the firehose flow of books we are currently witnessing? I’m going to make a wild guess and say 75%. Yes, I am suggesting there would be an immediate 75% reduction in raw numbers. Maybe more. Now some of these would be “bona fide” writers taking pause, or not having the 500 bones. So I would expect some of those who were originally deterred to come back and eventually publish a book. But I also believe you would take a huge slice out of the dreck pie.
Rob’s post last Friday, “Yes, Virginia, There ARE Bad Writers,” was a followup to the firestorm of comments the first piece ignited. After his discussion of several items related to his original post, Guthrie concluded:
Whatever the solution, there eventually needs to be some sort of gatekeeper. There are free websites for writers who simply want to put their works out there to be read. Once a writer starts charging for their work there should be an expectation of quality for the consumer. A department store isn’t going to accept my homegrown hair-dryer contraption just because I made it and want people to buy it. There are flea markets for such uncontrolled products.
There’s also the trash bin but no one wants to hear that suggestion. I get it. It’s painful. No writer wants to see their hard work lying amongst the rest of the garbage.
So the discussion is joined. It is not so much a discussion of “pay to play” as it is one about placing a filter on indie writing, establishing some way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
If the digital publishing juggernaut continues to gain traction, and I am betting good money it will, then the quality control issue moves even more front and center. In the coming world, where the only brick and mortar bookstores left sell second-hand books, and every new book is an ebook, readers will have access to a vast ocean of books, written by all types of writers, some good, some bad.
What mechanism will readers use to fish “good” books out of the sea, and how will authors distinguish themselves from their peers?
Guthrie’s “pay to play” model is one way of tackling the issue. However, I am not a proponent of establishing roadblocks authors must overcome to publish their works. Writers have enough of those already. What sets the new world of indie publishing apart from what came before it, the hegemony of a handful of big houses that controlled the world of books, is its unfettered democracy as messy as that is.
But, I do understand and appreciate Rob Guthrie’s point.
I believe the digital world of books will begin to impose its own quality controls through “say it the right way” filters. By this I mean that online book stores and book clubs will begin to position themselves as homes for readers who are looking for quality books in various genres. The people who own and operate such sites will take on the job of sifting through the chaff, shucking the oysters in search of a pearl.
Under the “say it the right way” approach, the gatekeepers appear after a book is in circulation, and make the decision whether they want to vouch for it. If one batch of gatekeepers says no to the book, another may welcome it with open arms. An urban fantasy vampire book might do great on a vampire book sight, but not make in the door at one named “No Vampires Need Apply.”
If that happens, we will still see a huge surge in the number of books in the marketplace, but readers could gain access to the ones that are up their alley by checking a few sites they know they can trust and clicking the “buy on Amazon” button.
Do you think an author should “pay to play”? What about the “say it the right way” filter? Do you have another suggestion? Let me hear from you.