Friday, May 31, 2013

Guest Post from Stephen Woodfin: Do Indie Books Need Gatekeepers?


Stephen Woodfin blogs at Venture Galleries. This is a though provoking post from him:
  Do Indie Books Need Gatekeepers?
This is one of those issues that raises its head periodically in the discussion of the digital revolution.
The argument goes something like this:  Because so many Indie books are crap, someone, or some thing, needs to provide a filter for them so that readers don't have to wade through tons of garbage to find a good book.
Let's think about that proposition for a minute.
Trad publishers fancy themselves as the appointed guardians of all things literary.  To be good, a book must carry the imprimatur of an established publishing house.  Without that badge, that elitist seal of approval, the ignorant masses, i.e., readers, are lost, afloat in the sea sans compass or navigation aids.
Those publishers have fostered this perception at every turn and continue to do so.
Democracy, as Winston Churchill said, is the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the others.
Yet even in the midst of the revolution the rebels seem torn on the subject of gatekeepers.
Maybe their argument goes like this:  We have seen the enemy, and we are it.

I saw a blog last Friday that contained some predictions about the digital revolution for the next five years.  It was a thoughtful post. But one of the predictions was that book bloggers would ascend to gatekeeper status for Indies.

I hadn't thought about that as a possibility, but it certainly makes sense and is plausible.
So that argument would be: Let's substitute book bloggers for trad publishers so that this Indie thing doesn't go to the dogs.  If a book doesn't pass  muster with the bloggers, it must be no good, and people shouldn't buy it.
Sounds like the world we just left, doesn't it?
Such a system would work fine except for one small factor.
Human nature.
All of life is politics. If a book blogger became the gatekeeper, he would face the terrible temptation to make his opinions available to the highest bidder, or he would pick favorites, or he would prefer one genre over another, or fight jealousy, or just become lazy and rely on others to make his recommendations for him.
Sounds like the world we just left, doesn't it?
Some of my comments stem from the implications I read into the word gatekeeper. It is a member-non-member type word, a haves vs. have-nots concept.
Rather, I think what the Indie world will become is nothing more than an expanded, virtual word of mouth environment.  Readers will find a book they like and tell people about it in person and on the Internet. Boutique sites will arise where people will gather around the water cooler and discuss books and authors.
Some conversations will be about how bad a certain book was, others will extol the virtues of a book.
Gatekeepers be damned.  Indies of the world unite.

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