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March 12, 2008

Filed under: fiction»industry»ebooks

Taking the Public out of Publication

File under "seemed like a good idea at the time": Amazon's Digital Text Platform is a disaster.

In theory, it's great: give anyone the ability to self-publish through Amazon's Kindle Store. It democratizes publishing. It makes more content available on Kindle, and boosts Amazon's numbers for available titles. And it offers a new revenue stream for writers, which I can see as a good thing.

But in practice, it means that any quality controls have been removed--and you don't realize how valuable the QA functions of editors and publishing houses really are until you get rid of them. I am glad that Paul and Bobbie Abell can write about Our Trip to Israel and distribute it to their friends. Likewise, perhaps USWEBGURU really does know How to Make Money on the Internet (in addition to their numerous publications as USHEALTHEXPERT and USDIETEXPERT). And maybe there really is a market for erotic short fiction written by women with terrible lingerie headshots, I don't know. But I didn't want to know, either.

We already have a place where anyone can publish their work online, including in a Kindle-ready .mobi format. It's called the Internet. And I celebrate its openness, I really do. But when I hit the Kindle Store to check for new publications, I don't really want to have to skip past pages of self-published short fiction of unknown quality in order to find something that (at some point) has crossed an editor's desk.

Frankly, even on the web, we rely on editors. How did you find this page? You probably got referred here at some point by another blog whose judgement you trust (and which now you are doubting), or you know me personally. But you had a way of evaluating this content.

Amazon isn't helping matters by dumping tons of public-domain titles into the Kindle store every day with a "new" publication date, using incredibly tasteless public domain images as the "covers" for these titles. Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that I can buy Balzac with better formatting than the Project Gutenberg version for only $1. But it's not a new title, and I shouldn't have to see it when sorting by publication date.

At some point, I'm guessing when Amazon has sufficient title coverage that they're not insecure about it, the Digital Text Platform fluff will be cordoned off. You could do it now--just add an option to filter out any books that don't have a printed version, and that would solve the problem for me. And these problems don't cripple the store now. It's still useful. But it makes browsing for books less enjoyable than it should be. What Amazon attempted to do--opening up the book market to the masses--was a respectable goal. It just hasn't turned out to be a practical one for readers.

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