Monday, April 22, 2013

Are Book Critics Obsolete or Essential?

From a Creative Penn article called “The Discoverability Challenge: With More Authors Self-Publishing Each Year, How Will Your Book Get Noticed?

Amazon and other online publishers have made it so simple for authors to self-publish that the number of books hitting the electronic shelves each year has skyrocketed. For example, in 1950, only 11,000 new books were published. Seems like quite a good amount of books, doesn’t it? The year 2011 welcomed an estimated 340,000 new books into the world, according to data company Bowkers.
In the days of bookstores, titles were quickly retired to make way for the latest and greatest. With online book retailers like Amazon now the go-to place for literary material, books can stay on electronic shelves indefinitely while each new year brings an ever-increasing tidal wave of newly published selections.
Readers have more reading choices than ever, but writers have never faced a more competitive environment or struggled so hard to get their book noticed.

Outlets that will review your independently published books

As possible solutions to this discoverability challenge, the article’s author (Jessica Bennett) goes on to mention sites like NetgalleyGoodreadsBookish and Rabble Reads, as well as her own CompulsionReads. I’ll add our friends at the B.R.A.G. Medallion to the list too. These sites aim to highlight the best indie books on the market — the very, very flooded market.

What are your predictions for the future of book criticism?

In a world where Amazon customer reviews can be purchased, are these kinds of grassroots and crowd-sourced review sites more important than ever? Do they help bring attention to the most deserving indie books? Or do they reinforce a certain stylistic status quo?
Do they nobly broaden admittance into the canon, or are they perpetuating an obsolete notion (the myth of a canon in the first place, especially in the digital age)?
And if they are serving a crucial role in a changing industry, maybe it’s not that big a leap to think that book critics — the old-school, individual kind —  could still offer a valuable service too (if, of course, they’ll consider books not being pimped by the traditional publishing industry).
Now that the barriers to publishing and distribution have fallen, are critics more important and more powerful than ever? 
And what does it even mean to be “a critic?”
Which can you trust more, the wisdom of the masses or the tastes of a learned (maybe snobby) individual? Data from a social graph or the instincts of an experienced book critic?
Yes, I realize there’s probably a place for both in tomorrow’s publishing industry. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the floodgates of the future (and present) will be tended. Let me know in the comments section below.

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