This week’s screed against book publishers comes from Matt Yglesias at Vox.com, who proclaims, “Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers”–a headline that shouts clickbait but fairly reflects his piece. Yglesias, whose work I have often admired, notes that he’s the child of two authors and has published a book himself, so his hatred seems to be honestly earned. Writing of the “fundamental uselessness” of publishers, he says they are going to be “wiped off the face of the earth soon” by Amazon “and readers will be better for it.”
Book-business types rolled their eyes at Yglesias’ hostile tone and ignorance of some key facts, but I saw it cited as smart and “thoughtful” by a number of media people and others who I’d have hoped would know better. So at the risk of repeating points that have been made many times before (but seem still to be widely un-apprehended), maybe it’s worth briefly reminding ourselves just how publishers do add value in connecting writers and readers. So, pace Matt Yglesias, here are some of the services publishers perform.
Curation. The function of choosing what work is most worth presenting to readers is derided by some as a retrograde, “elitist” notion. Why should publishers appoint themselves as selectors of what people ought to read, when everybody can put their work online and let readers judge for themselves?