Consumers are flocking to flash sales, said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content, because the deals whittle down the vast number of choices for reading and other forms of entertainment. “In a world of abundance and lots of choice, how do we help people cut through?” Mr. Grandinetti said. “People are looking for ways to offer their authors a megaphone, and we’re looking to build more megaphones.”
Good news: Amazon seems to have some intriguing ideas about how to get people to stand out from the pack.
Bad news: It's Amazon, and it's essentially a lottery.
But then again, I'm having trouble thinking about how authors can reach an audience in a way that doesn't amount to a crapshoot. There may not be a way to make "discovery" (as they call it) into anything but an outwardly random process, Gladwell's "tipping points" aside.
I suspect the stock answer to that will be: clearly we don't have enough data. Mine more data, and soon patterns we never could have imagined will become clear! Or maybe we'll just end up with tons of data into which we read whatever we want to see, which is unfortunately what people do most often when confronted with such things.
It's thiings like this that edge me all the more towards the idea that any art form deserves to remain first and foremost an art form, with any commercial aspects of it running a very distant second. Not because money is bad, but because the whole process of making a marketplace for art of any kind — even art whose job is to entertain — creates a hierarchy instead of a palette.
If I go to the classics section of the bookstore at Penn Station (and the mere fact there is such a thing is heartening, believe me), I don't see Faulkner as being in competition with F. Scott Fitzgerald. They're part of a spectrum of storytelling. That kind of attitude needs to be kept alive entirely apart from any concerns about market forces, because then we end up having to market something on merits it doesn't really have, and the real importance of keeping such work alive is lost.
Actually, the fact that Amazon is now bringing into existence a system by which almost nothing could ever go out of print is a partial remedy to that issue, but only partial. We need a better way to filter the dreck from the treasure than mere market forces, which were never that good at such things in the first place. The conventional wisdom is it'll come together in fits and starts courtesy of the new technology we have, but I'm sure that's not going to happen as a natural by-product of its mere existence.