... the best stuff almost always comes from the healthy center of an industry, where experienced professionals have the resources to cultivate something the market doesn’t know it wants yet. The best stuff comes from high-risk bets. It’s not too hard to sell a slightly scandalous S&M trilogy or mass-market paperbacks or diet books. But stewardship of the next Toni Morrison is hard and takes experience and real risk because that kind of literature just isn’t going to be as popular as 50 Shades of Grey. And unfortunately, what is threatened by the devaluation of all works by a model like Amazon are the resources available to make those riskier investments. Some people may call the curators of those bets elitist, but which is the preferable tastemaker — the agent or editor steeped in literature his whole life, or Amazon’s pay-to-play model for promoting a book? Or worse, how about a bot swarm telling us how great or awful some new ebook is? I say, bring on the elitists.
To quote William Burroughs from Ministry's "Quick Fix", my own position is ticklish. I am with the invaders (that is, I publish through Amazon), no use trying to hide that. But at the same time, I disagree with many of the things they are doing.
Curation is not a matter of simply creating the biggest possible pile of stuff and then siccing the largest number of people on it. But that's what the Amazon self-publishing approach amounts to — one where the few titles that do get discovered and curated have, by and large, already benefited from their own network effects. In which case, Amazon isn't really "discovering" anything — they're just riding an existing wave, and saving themselves the trouble of having to do any actual "curation" at all. Why curate when you simply need to put your ear to the ground and listen for the rumbling? (This conveniently ignores how just because something has a following doesn't mean it's actually going to be any good, but since when has anyone today cared about such petty details?)
The terrible thing about Amazon is that as far as e-books and mass audiences go, there's little alternative. Nobody outside of a self-selecting coterie of readers knows about, say, Smashwords — and most people don't want to go through the bother of fussing with a welter of incompatible "standards" to get a book just because it isn't part of Amazon's all-devouring ecosystem. So Amazon wins by default, again.
We need people with good, educated taste to advocate for good books, because the alternative is not even the indifference of the crowd; the alternative is the indiffence of the well-tempered algorithm, where we write to please our computers instead of ourselves. Now I'm remembering Jeff Rovin's old joke about how video games aren't here to entertain us, but to entertain the TV. He might well have been more right than he knows.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind