Since putting up the IndieReader post there’s been some criticism of the service. Some people criticize IndieReader itself, while one person criticized me in an email for even giving IndieReader a platform. The way I see it: IndieReader is a development in self-publishing, it’s news. It’s up to writers, to some degree, to determine if it’s a good idea or not. I have actually been critical of IndieReader in that past – citing that it’s very expensive next to a place like AuthorsBookshop, which only charges $30 or so to be listed on the site.
I don’t think IndieReader is perfect by any means. For $140, the site needs to be offering a lot: how exactly is the site going to be marketed, who actually is going to be paying attention besides other self-published writers? Is there a method to getting the publishing industry to sit up and take notice, or just another place where writers list a book and feel like they’re making progress, but really aren’t doing much to increase visibility or book sales? In short, if writers are spending $140, what is IndieReader doing to promote the site and to whom? One of the criticisms of self-publishing is that it takes advantage of writers’ hopes – writers shell out a lot of money based on a lot of promises that are never fulfilled. IndieReader needs to make sure this isn’t the case.
Publishing Renaissance makes this criticism:
Once again, we see Old Publishing trying to shoehorn it’s methods into the new Internet environment. It’s the same 20th-century, top-down, corporate approach to deciding the value of media — an approach which runs antithetical to the realities of the business of media on the Internet. Just take a look at how online booksellers such as Amazon, or book recommendation websites like Goodreads help individual readers decide what to read next. They don’t make recommendations according to what a small number of tastemakers have chosen; instead, the recommendations are based upon community input and involvement.
I think my credentials for criticizing the gatekeeping system are pretty intact, but my defense is this: self-publishing is still carrying a lot of stigma. Though we can all dream that the new paradigm is upon us, the fact is, it isn’t. It’s an idea, a possibility. Right now, self-publishing is still criticized by a lot of people – many consider it an inferior form of publishing for inferior writers. Secondly, the new paradigm of self-publishers being able to subvert the system and take a book directly to consumers is a nice fantasy, but currently traditional distribution is a much better way of getting a book to consumers. Certainly Goodreads is a good method of reaching readers, but Goodreads plus Barnes & Noble distribution is even better. Until the Espresso Book Machine is in every corner store and bookstores do not determine what is sold then the old paradigm is still going to linger. That scenario may not play out for decades.
So working within the old paradigm is not the worst development because the new paradigm has not yet taken full effect – and working within the old paradigm does not necessarily mean it’s going to halt the new paradigm’s progress. Nowhere on this site do I say traditional publishing is bad – it’s fine, just the selection process for publishing books is flawed. If traditional publishing was able to be less market driven then it’s not necessarily a problem. Sharing space with other writers via a publisher’s imprint is a good system. Everyone doesn’t need to go it alone.
One criticism I’ve seen is that people say readers do not buy books based on where they’re published. To this I say: huh? I’ve frequently bought books based on where they’re published. When you buy a book from Soft Skull Press, you know you’re getting a certain kind of book, just as if you bought a CD from Sub Pop. Publishers have identities and there’s no problem with that. Selecting books based on some criteria is fine so long as that criteria isn’t purely based on profit.
So IndieReader fits this system. Potentially (it hasn’t been proven yet) it could be a Soft Skull Press of self-publishing. A place where people know they’re buying books of better quality. I don’t see trouble in that – in fact it’s a way to lend self-publishing legitimacy. It points out that self-publishing is a valid way for writers to publish. The site promotes the idea that good books are being self-published all the time. Even this is a stretch for a lot of people right now, so any enterprise that helps to counter self-publishing’s stigma is a good development. The fact that people from traditional publishing are entering the field of self-publishing lends extra clout – similar to Amazon publishing successful self-published books. You could say all they see are dollar signs, but they really do seem to see the necessity for self-publishing in this climate.
This is why I see good potential in IndieReader. The jury’s out if they make good on that potential, but the idea itself isn’t a bad one.
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About Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.