Consistent in its denial of human reality, growth capitalism thinks only in the present tense, ignores the past, and limits its future to the current quarter. To the BS [Best Seller] machine, the only value of a book is its current salability. Growth of capital depends on rapid turnover, so the BS machine not only isn’t geared to allow for durability, but actually discourages it. Fading BSs must be replaced constantly by fresh ones in order to keep corporate profits up.

This fits well with a good deal of reader desire and expectation, since to many readers much of the value of a BS is that it’s new: everybody’s reading and talking about it.

Once it’s less read and talked about the BS is no longer a BS. Now it’s just a book. The machine has finished with it, and it can depend now only on its own intrinsic merit. If it has merit, reader loyalty and word of mouth can keep it selling enough to make it worth keeping in print for years, decades, even centuries.

The steady annual income of such books is what publishers relied on, till about twenty years ago, on to support the risk of publishing new books by untried authors, or good books by authors who generally sold pretty well but not very well.

That idea of publishing is almost gone, replaced by the Amazon model: easy salability, heavy marketing, super-competitive pricing, then trash and replace.

–Ursula K. Le Guin on boom and bust.

Le Guin’s essay is great for pissing a lot of people off, and I don’t agree with it 100%. But it is interesting to read, particularly as it represents the opinions of someone who made their career in The Olden Days.

The point here is that what Le Guin terms the “BS machine” makes it exponentially harder for challenging, thoughtful, or unusual books to find markets, since they don’t fit in with the “junk food fiction” model. I’m not convinced I agree with this–it’s got a bit of the old Kids These Days Don’t Know What They Should Like about it–but I’m also not convinced it’s entirely wrong, either. There is something to the cycle she describes, and it is, I think, easier for certain types of works to exploit that cycle than it is for others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and nor do I necessarily think it’s a new thing–plenty of things we consider Great Works now were unknown in their time, but just are many were “bestsellers”–but it is… a thing.

I’m also not convinced with the argument that Amazon doesn’t take risks as a publisher. Or, more accurately, I think that Amazon provides a platform for other people to take risks as publishers; there are plenty of books in the Kindle that would never had found a commercial publisher willing to take them on, yet have done reasonably well on Amazon (ref. pretty much every single permutation of non-“mainstream” erotica). Arguing over whether people will remember these works in a hundred years time is, I think, missing the point: they’re popular now, and that’s the thing future anthropologists and sociologists will be studying.

Also, “junk food fiction” both, a) helps a lot of people put food on their tables, and b) can still be written well within the scope of the genre that it is. Down-nose sneering at it for not being “literature” enough is something I don’t have a hell of a lot of time for, to be honest. Especially not from an author of SFF, of all things!

Tl;dr, things are more complex than clickbaity rants on the Internet.

2015-06-24T09:05:35+00:00 10th August, 2015|Tags: books, publishing, self-publishing|Comments Off on BS.