Quality Control: Too many books?

MA Publishing student, Katt Brennan, takes on the task of this week’s newsflash. She considers the role of publishers as agents of quality control – are there too many books being produced?

An article that caught my eye this week is that by Tanja Tuma, writing on Publishing Perspectives. She discusses a panel at the International Self-Publishing Program that asked: are there too many books?

She notes that self-publishers were ‘in the eye of the storm’ at the Frankfurt Book Fair and it is obvious that their presence can no longer be ignored. 28 million books were published in English in 2013 and, in the USA, 390,000 ISBNs were adopted by self-published authors versus the 300,000 taken on by trade publishers. That’s a pretty phenomenal gap of 90,000, but Joanna Penn, an author and entrepreneur, says she ‘finds the explosion of creativity wonderful and rewarding.’ She says:

Today, authors can reach readers beyond any of the traditional industry’s paths. There are niches and micro-niches emerging everywhere: either on the creative or on the receptive side of publishing.

In other words, self-publishing is allowing books to emerge that before might have been considered too specialist, too narrow or as having no market, thereby expanding the horizons of readership.

However, Porter Anderson, Deputy Editor of the Bookseller’s Futurebook, summed it up well, saying:

It’s a great thing that everybody can publish a book today, and it’s a bad thing that everybody can publish a book today.

This brings me to the other side of the argument that, despite leaps and bounds of creativity and the opportunity for authors to avoid the publishing house middleman who so often rejects their book, the more books there are, the quicker demand falls, the faster prices drop and quality declines at the same time.

While it is true that people may never lose their interest in books, or their desire for more, I lean more towards mistrust of self-publishing than praise for the freedom it offers. Perhaps I’m just picky, but the quality of writing in a book really matters to me, and I fear I’ll find it increasingly tiring to trawl through pages and pages on Amazon, or bookshelf upon bookshelf in Waterstones, to find something that is truly well written. Also, as a writer myself, and again perhaps this is just me, I rather like the idea of a publishing house taking my book on and liking it enough to want to pursue it; but then, I wonder, in the face of it all, if I’m too much of an idealist.

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