September 23, 2014

Who is Amazon’s Ryan Seacrest?


Photo via Shutterstock.

Photo via Shutterstock.

Amazon has been sending emails to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors about a new crowd-sourcing program that doesn’t have a launch date or URL yet. Targeting self-published authors, in hopes of baiting in the next E.L. James, or at least someone with a whole lot of friends who will vote for them, Amazon is offering a new voting system that is probably a lot cheaper than hiring anyone IRL to read the company’s slush pile.

The Digital Reader reports that authors are asked to submit their complete, unpublished work and a cover. Amazon will post the first few pages online for readers to sample and vote on. Books with popular support will be considered for publication — that is, someone at the company will read them and see if this is something worth turning into an ebook.

Why have editors, or a devoted tone for your list, when you can run a publishing business like a popularity contest? Money is not really an object, so of course there’s a monetary prize, alongside a set of rules:

The ebook industry always lends itself to a good comparison to the battered music industry. Publishers Weekly describes this model as “American Idol-style” publishing.

But who is Amazon’s Ryan Seacrest? There’s no editorial voice or publisher’s face assigned to this list. In a way, this is the kind of publishing The Everything Store does best: making all possible books available without suggesting some are more important or better imagined than others.

Experiments in their own imprints, like New Harvest and little a, haven’t worked out for Bezos and Co. Self-publishing poses a major issue: searches for such a large quantity of titles makes it hard for any one to differentiate itself from the rest. If they’re not going to invest in an editorial vision, they’re going to try the popularity contest. It’s a middle ground between self-publishing and actually investing in an editorial vision.



Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.