The Age of Ebooks has created a very fascinating situation. Anybody now can publish an Ebook for virtually nothing. The problem is that there no longer are gatekeepers (i.e.; the old publishing industry) to separate the good from the bad and the bad from the truly awful. It used to be that a book that made it to Barnes and Noble had to pass the approval of a literary agent and then an acquisitions editor and then a board.
Today books filled with grammatical mistakes and misspelled words are being born by the millions. That’s not to say that some self-published books are not wonderful; I’m proud of a few of mine. Still, you get the drift of what I’m saying. How do you distinguish quality from dreck when the pile of books reaches half-way to the Moon?
One answer is the insightful book review. Book bloggers today are filling the role that used to be filled by newspaper and journal book reviewers. There are thousands and thousands of amateur book review bloggers. Some claim to reach a book a week on top of their jobs and household responsibilities. That’s pretty amazing! The vast majority provide a brief summary of the book’s plot along with their overall opinion and a star rating similar to the one that Amazon uses. These bloggers are a Godsend for authors because they help their books to be noticed by the general public. Some bloggers have hundreds or even thousands of followers.
The flood of books on the market has swamped most book bloggers. Many now are either declining new books to review or indicating that it might take months to publish a review if they do accept the book. Into this vacuum has stepped the professional vultures. Some of these vultures used to have decent reputations such as Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Now they offer paid for reviews. Of course they promise their reviews will be impartial, but a review loses much of its clout when the author is paying to have it written.
All kinds of websites have appeared recently that promise paid for reviews. Some book bloggers have even offered “step to the front of the line” queues for those authors willing to pay for a review. Unfortunately, this situation will only get worse and authors become more and more desperate to find reviewers. I’m in the process of looking for reviewers myself at the moment. Don’t think I haven’t been tempted to “buy” a review from one of these websites or even to go to Fiver and pay some poor hack $5 to write a review.
I’ve never paid for a review, but I realize the playing field right now is getting very uneven. Let’s say some author kickstarts his or her book by paying $1000 for a large number of reviews. Amazon now lists 50 four and five star reviews and begins suggesting the book to customers looking for a good mystery. The sales mushroom. Meanwhile authors unwilling to pay a vulture for a review, stand at the corner, cup in hand, and whisper “Brother, can you spare me a review?” to book bloggers as they walk by.
The NY Times had an interesting article the other day about a large charter school company run by Eva Moskowitz. The charter schools under her control are ruthless when it comes to forcing kids to score high on tests so that the charter schools look even better. Kids wet their pants because they are not allowed to go to the bathroom while practicing for taking the tests since they can’t go during the actual tests. Kids with low scores are ridiculed before the entire school.
Moskowitz is backed by a venture capital group. Ultimately, I’m sure they envision the program growing into a multi-million dollar endeavor and spreading throughout the country. Let’s take what’s happening a few steps further, though. The GOP wants to privatize everything. In a few years we’re likely to receive incentives from our water company and electric company to use less precious resources. Perhaps if we tear out our lawn, we can have a new fence installed by the water company to hide the dirt pile along with a sign saying “this dirt pile is brought to you by ABC Water Company.” We’ll be able to buy clothing for discounts if they feature logos advertising the companies behind the products. Nike already controls most college sports programs because of the money it gives them in exchange for wearing their shoes.
Cable companies likely will encourage customers to watch certain shoes with incentives while adding charges for those who prefer to watch shoes like PBS since they will expect PBS to be self-supporting. Churches and Temples are likely to start advertising using pictures of couples they have married who have achieved success.
Kids today don’t expect anything they write to be private. In the near future nothing will. Chatting with a friend and happen to mention how you like Allen’s New York Style Pizza? In the future, it’s likely that a voice will cut in and offer you an immediate discount to buy now.
Publishers already require non-fiction authors to provide a social media “platform” in order to guarantee sales; otherwise, they won’t accept a book for publication. Imagine in the near future that books will contain ads, even on the back cover, for products. Why waste valuable advertising space?
Maybe corporate America will be more open about the politicians they already buy. Imagine Senator McCane running for reelection in Arizona at the age of 80 (2016) with the slogan, “the best senator the military industrial complex could possibly buy.” Imagine a large prostitute ring in Louisiana advertising its support for a senator already tied to prostitute visits.
Today Google is being accused of trying to influence kids with its new app that hits them with advertising. Why be subtle? Google already puts items from companies who buy its advertising in the most advantageous position for any search. Why not just say “the following items are listed first because Google believes they are best [and] they have paid good money to earn the positions they have.”