Is the Book Business Dying?

Is the preponderance of self-published books killing the book business? I’ve been reading articles about how Amazon is promoting self-published ebooks — a few people have been picked by Amazon arbitrarily, and Amazon promoted these books constantly for a week and made them best-sellers. I’ve seen a couple of these best-selling self-published ebooks, and they are so poorly written, I can’t see why anyone would buy them, but since people do buy them, it must mean readers don’t care about good writing or good story-telling. I’ve also seen books go viral for absolutely no reason I can fathom. (And often, the writer has no clue, either.) Most often, these books go viral only on Amazon, with no bleed-over into other ebook formats, which means Amazon has an amazing control of the book business.

There seems to be a movement going on to erode the traditional means of determining a worthwhile book, with vast numbers of people saying book standards are dead and they can write however they choose, without regard to grammar or story-writing skills. Which apparently is true, since such books find a market. (And often, these books get 5-star reviews, which says more about the reviewer than the book.) There is also a growing militancy among self-publishers. If you say anything against the practice, there is a huge backlash of disapproval.

I’m not saying all self-published books are poor quality — some are well written and well-edited and deserve their acclaim. Nor am I saying that traditionally published books are good quality — most are not worth reading. But with books on both ends of the spectrum selling millions of copies, is there any place for those with well written, unique, and perhaps thoughtful books who aren’t self-published and who don’t have a major publisher behind them to push the books? Or have the people spoken and said they have no use for such books?

When books are so prevalent, especially when vast numbers of readers seem to have no ability to determine what is worthwhile, books become devalued. Albert Nock, in the 1930s, disagreed with universal literacy. He contended that when everyone can read, books will be written to appeal to the least common denominator, and there is no doubt that during the subsequent decades, books were published based on their ability to appeal to the most readers possible. If there is any truth that book quality declined with universal literacy, wouldn’t it be even more true if there is universal publishing?

Historically, whenever one product or category of products dominated the market, it presaged the end of that product. If you are old enough, you remember when the streets were clogged with VW Beetles, and now you seldom see one. Is the preponderance of books on the market today the beginning of the end?