Why I’ve changed my mind about Amazon
Gatekeepers are a good thing. They are present everywhere around us, working for the greater good, and often we don’t even realize their presence. They task is to keep the invading hordes from the Holy Land they protect and they do it, in theory at least, with as much grace and civility as possible.
They work for governments, as food-, safety-, building-, or health inspectors.
They work for companies, trying to sort out the applicants who can have a positive impact on the firm from those with less potential .
They work in science, watching over the integrity of research and thus the purity of scientific progress.
And, most importantly, they work in the arts. As editors, lectors, agents and critics they try to judge who’s worthy of calling themselves artists or writers or musicians and who isn’t. Often, this process is less about the art and more about commercial possibilities, but in general, these guardians do good work.
Enter Amazon and its earthquake-like impact on the publishing industry.
I’ve been critical about the company in the past and in many ways still am, but one aspect where I’ve made a 180º turnaround is digital self-publishing.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, which I’ve tested yesterday, is an amazing thing. It allows anyone to effortlessly publish their word document as an e-book and offer it on Amazon.com for sale. As one imagines, many, many people are using this service and it has already changed a lot about how we view culture.
It’s obvious why we need people who have to approve new medication, imported food, bridges or research methods. But why do we need them in the arts? Why does one person have the right to make a prediction about a work of fiction, the prediction of attraction if thousands of potential readers may disagree? (We know that these mistakes have happened. anyone heard of Harry Potter?) And why does this prediction have to determine whether a person may call themselves an author or not?
These are polemical questions and ultimately I think that we need lectors, professional publishers and critics very much.
But! If we make the assumption that books are ultimately entertainment and that the best judge of a work’s entertainment factor isn’t some self-declared judge, but the audience in its entirety, doesn’t this mean that selling directly to an audience is the best method we have to discover artists?
Sure, a lot of trash might get published this way, trash that may prevent the truly deserving works from getting discovered, but that’s a risk one has to take. And where’s the difference from hundreds of manuscripts stacking on an editor’s desk who doesn’t even have the time to look at all of them?
Within the greater context of increasing participation and integration via the Internet, I’d say that Amazon’s way (in this specific area) is the future. But this future doesn’t make professional readers superfluous. On the contrary. There is a difference between entertainment and art, how fuzzy it may be, and we do need people with refined perception and education to discover this art und present it to us. No algorithm can ever do that.
So thumbs up on KDP and a cheer for professional critics!