A good post from a fellow self-pubbed author:
There is still a lot wrong with publishing. We still lack adequate systems for getting developing writers the feedback they need in order to improve — form rejection letters are instructive in that they tell a writer something’s wrong, but they are effectively worthless as improvement tools. We still don’t have an online system for helping people find quality, undiscovered literature — our existing systems use ‘popularity’ as the metric that increases visibility, which causes a small handful of books to become big and stay big at the expense of everyone else in the market. The list goes on, but all of our problems are solvable. The question is, will we step up to the challenge of solving them? Will we continue pining for the good old days on one side, and insist that Amazon is our savior on the other? Or will we instead reject any and all dogma, and continue to evolve as a publishing community?
Most of what he talks about is how the forces on both sides of the equation have their merits and their drawbacks. The elitism and stonewalling of conventional publishing is bad enough, but the anarchy of self-publishing creates an elitism of its own.
I'm talking about the elitism of the self-selecting survivor, where a few rock stars like Hugh Howey (Wool) are held up as examples of how the system works. There is a working system there, but it's a system made up at least as much out of network effects and blind chance as it is rewards for hard work. And tools like Goodreads only go so far, since the people who really want to find out about what's worth reading tend to do that legwork on their own instead of having a service do it for them. They may let their peers give them advice, but Goodreads is hardly the only venue for such things.
The biggest problem with both sides, as I see it, is that each do both authors and readers a disservice. Conventional publishing uses last year's model as a guide for what to do this time around, and too often sells people a rehashed version of what came before, with just enough novelty sprinkled on top to evade a cursory sniff test. Self-publishing is totally unfiltered, but most of the time that amounts to nothing more than vast reams of books that wouldn't clear customs in any event. The few good books in that pile sit unpromoted and undiscovered, because who the hell has the time to go digging through all that junk anyway?
So again, it all seems to come back to filtering and gatekeepers, on both sides. And most of the talk around filtering and gatekeepers has degenerated to the point where few people seem to expect human beings to be doing any of that work in a decade or two. The current idea seems to be one of two things: that you can replace all that with algorithms of the "if you like that you'll like this" variety, or cobble together some manner of automatically-tabulatable metadata for book bloggers that allows their criticisms to be slurped up and aggregated.
Both of those approaches suffer from the same core misconception: that more data, gleaned from more sources, is automatically better. Not for an aesthetic endeavor, it isn't. lf I read a negative review from a critic whom I have come to know well, it means more to me than a whole bunch of positive ones, because odds are she'll be able to explain her position intelligently. Instead, we get something akin to the Rotten Tomatoes approach, where both consent and dissent are devalued, and where what matters most is not the cogency of your argument but how well it condenses down to a snappy sound bite. (I still feel cross-author book blurbs should be banned entirely; they do nothing but prove that some authors have terrible taste.)
I'd like to believe that there is some magic methodology, as yet undiscovered, which could allow the crowd (readers) and the individual (authors, and critics too) to coexist happily. Maybe there's some Kickstarter-like filtering system that could be used to allow books to be given a proper, merited boost based on the case they make for having a solid audience, no matter what the size. In essence, we'd need to create a system where the good books don't have any choice but to bubble to the top. But your guess is as good as mine as to how such a utopian methodology could ever come to be.