The advent of the e-book may seem to have made the distinction between professional and vanity press publishing less important. Electronic distribution obscures the traditional gate-keeping functions of publishing houses, distributors, and booksellers.
The electronic-format vanity houses argue it is possible now for authors to go straight to consumers and therefore skip all the hypercritical (and hypocritical?) publishing professionals. One of these outfits is now bragging that it “published” 92,000 new titles in 2011. How much attention could have been paid to any of these titles? I have heard it said that attractive covers and careful editing are wasted on e-books.
But is it true that the traditional publishing gatekeepers are passé?
If you have been paying attention to the chatter that has surrounded the rise of e-books, you will have noticed that a new word, curate, is popping up everywhere. While “gatekeeper” has a nasty, undemocratic sound to it, “curate” is drawn from the classy world of museums and sounds tasteful and fair. It might almost be a pleasure to be “curated.”
This new choice of words however is just spin, a distinction without a difference. While it is certainly true that plausible book-like objects can now be produced easily and cheaply—approximately a million new titles were published last year—all but a very small percentage of these have no business taking up bookstore shelf space or even being displayed on Web sites. They just aren’t good enough.
Somehow those of us who consume books will need a means of separating the wheat from the chaff. Otherwise the chaff will suffocate us. Somebody is going to have to curate this mess.
(This is an excerpt from an essay that will soon appear in the Independent, the magazine of the Independent Book Publishers Association, www.ibpa-online.org)
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Inc.
Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.