There's been a story building over the past week about self-published ebooks. According to Chuck Wendig, the massive volume of self-published titles has resulted in a "shit volcano" of worthless content. Another blogger picked up the story, and then yesterday Mike Cane jumped in with the prediction that Amazon would eventually take steps to clean up the Kindle Store.
If you have time today you might want to read these posts. But if you don't have time, don't worry. This line of reasoning is arguably flawed in that it is focusing the wrong problem, and it is safe to simply ignore it (especially since Chuck Wendig's post is so long).
- Slushy Glut Slog: Why The Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is A Problem — which the people who are the problem will never think they’re the problem.
- Why the self-publishing shit volcano isn’t going to stop erupting any time soon — which the people who are the problem will never read to the end because they can’t understand it.
- The Self-Pub “Shit Volcano” Will End - which the people who are the problem get booted from the Kindle Store.
That last link leads to one of Mike Cane's post which was published yesterday. Mike is usually right about these kind of things, which is why I posted that article last night.
But in this case it's much more likely that he is wrong. As Mackay Bell pointed out in the comments, this is the new normal:
We heard the exact same arguments about blogging and You Tube. How can Blogger continue to allow anyone to create a site for free? They will have to start charging. Not yet. Same with You Tube. Google can’t possibly continue to allow people to post any video on line, they’ll have to start limiting it. Didn’t happen. (Same arguments about photo sharing sites, as I recall.)
Welcome to the digital age. It costs almost nothing to allow people to post this stuff, and the benefits to the companies that allow it are enormous for the small portion of stuff that turns out to be valuable.
This is true, and the same generalized comment could be made about every platform that is built on user-generated content, including Tumblr, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, etc.
And now that we have a new perspective on the problem, I have a question for you: Would you describe the many, many Youtube channels with poor quality video as a shit volcano? Would you say that about the many badly written blogs?
What about the many podcasts in iTunes, or the excessive number of duplicate apps in iTunes, Google Play, and elsewhere? Surely those are shit volcanoes which need to be cleaned up, right?
I wouldn't say so; all that content is merely the dross which I ignore while searching for the good stuff. In fact, I hadn't even thought of the unwanted content on Youtube, et al until Mackay left that comment, that's how well I have ignored it. All that excess and possibly bad content isn't a problem for me, much less one deserving of the title of shit volcano.
And if we don't call that other user-generated content a shit volcano then is it really correct to apply the term to self-published ebooks?
Again, I would say no.
I think Chuck Wendig's original argument is flawed. The problem we should be looking at isn't the volume of content or its quality; the problem is how to sort through the dross and find the good stuff.
The term we're looking for now is discovery, which basically means connecting readers with their next read, and I'm not convinced discovery is a problem, either.
This whole discussion started with Chuck telling us to go look at 10 ebooks at random in the Kindle Store so we cans see how many are terrible.
Okay, we can do that but does anyone really use that as a way to find new content?
I don't. Like most other readers I listen to recommendations, check free ebook sites, and read descriptions and reviews in order to tell whether I might like a book. I don't usually grab ebooks at random in the Kindle Store, so the enormous mass of ebooks don't bother me at all.
In short, the "self-pub shit volcano" is no more of a problem than my current dilemma of deciding whether I should get my morning sandwich from McDonalds, Panera, or the local coffee shop.
It's the new normal, so there's little reason to complain about it.