Quarantine all ebooks

Michael Kozlowski had this here reactionary fit:

I think its very important for all major bookstores to have an indie section because small publishers and indie authors are abusing the system.

Others have highlighted the problems with this plan.

The short version of the counter-argument: what’s a self-publisher?

Most of the major ebook retail platforms direct small publishers to use their self-serve platforms not everybody who uses them is a solo author publishing his own work.

But, there’s still an set of obvious problems here that needs to be solved:

  • Most search results in ebook retail are full of crap. You search for an author or a title and get shitloads irrelevant titles. Amazon isn’t as bad as the rest at this but they all suffer from it to some degree.
  • Dishonest publishers lie in their metadata so that they crop up all over the place, often inappropriately. (This is the cause of the recent PR disaster that caused WH Smith to shutter their website temporarily.)
  • Dishonest publishers choose author names and book titles a little bit too close to popular ones.
  • Well, lets’ just say there is a lot of general purpose gaming of the system by dishonest people.

You can try and solve one thing but then the dishonest will just find a new exploit. It’s like the arms race between Google and black hat SEO folks all over again.

Instead I have a simple suggestion:

Quarantine all new ebook titles, even those from big publishers. Only remove the quarantine when either the ebook or its print counterpart has sold more than 100 copies.

Quarantined titles only appear on Author pages and if you follow a direct link to their page. This means that most publisher online sales and marketing campaigns would still work as normal.

Once a title has sold 100 copies it is reviewed by a human to see if it fulfils the ebook retail platform’s quality requirements. If it does, quarantine would be lifted. If it doesn’t, the publisher gets a notice as to what it is that needs to be fixed.

–But this would destroy the sales for most self-publishers.

Not really. It would smash everybody who doesn’t have the platform, PR, or sales mojo to sell more than a 100 copies down to zero. But it would increase search discoverability and the sales of those who do sell more than 100 copies. Consider it a ‘you must be this tall to ride’ kind of thing. The ebook retail platform would probably increase their overall sales with the added bonus of preventing forever PR disaster like the one that took place last weekend.

Would it piss everybody off? Absolutely, and on that basis alone I think it should be implemented on all major platforms.

3 thoughts on “Quarantine all ebooks

  1. After a year and a half, and two books out, I still don’t have 100 sales of both books combined. So this system would mean for me, and for most self-published authors that I know, that there would be no point in trying to publish on that platform at all. On the other hand, “Daddy’s Rape Party” probably sold 100 copies in the first month.

    • The same applies to all of my books. On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that almost all of the few sales I have made have been referred (i.e. come from somebody linking directly to the book).

      And one point of the quarantine is to cut down on the number of titles that need to be inspected by hand (i.e. only those who have sold more than 100) so that a proper and thorough inspection process becomes viable. Which means those smutty titles would have been inspected and banned within five minutes of reaching 100 sales and would never have left quarantine.

    • I do see your point, but given the volume of books uploaded to the e-book retailers, I don’t think that manually reviewing books that have 100 sales is any more practical than manually reviewing all books. It would be interesting to see what the actual numbers of self-published books per sales category are, now that I think about it.

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