I don't know what to make of this - publishers asking the public to bet on bestsellers. On the one hand, it would open up to the public what they do now, which is try to figure out what the public wants without actually consulting the public.

On the other hand, I'd much rather be asked which book I'd like to read, not which book is likely to sell the most copies. This approach just seems to keep pushing away the question of what readers - real readers - actually like and gets the public involved in the same guesswork now done by publishers.

And it emphasizes the whole home run approach rather than celebrating the diversity that we can enjoy with books.

What do you think?

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It does seem like the equivalent of one of those goofy business "focus groups." In reality it's just going to be part of the mix on how books are chosen. It would be nice to see a book chosen through this process fail badly, but the process will probably be successful enough so that it is repeated. Also, the publicity generated by the gimmick will automatically result in a certain number of book sales.

Thanks for pointing out this article. The good news is that in other markets, such price discovery, a single number, is an excellent way to incorporate a lot of market information. (What's a fair price for what you're writing?) The bad news is that this pricing mechanism is applied for commodities. It's of course distressing to think of book proposals as interchangeable.

L. A. Starks
I just received a forwarded e-mail from someone to vote for them on Media Predict. If a lot of people are going to do that (solicit votes or "investments"), it doesn't seem that this website will work at all.

As it stands now, I think the whole setup is pretty flawed and will absolutely not work on readers and books. Reading books now is such a visceral experience--it's looking at the cover and feeling the heft of the book in your hands. And there's also the buzz that follows a book's launch at dinner parties and book club meetings. This website doesn't account for those factors. I bet my 5,000 fake dollars that the project's going to be a flop.
Ick. This makes me feel a little slimy. And sad.

You come across the buzz topics, don't you? You must have your antenna(s) out in the ether.

Could it be that publishers don't have enough faith in the gen-X and Y editors they have on board? The whole things smacks of a popularity contest and they use it to make authors into desperate people again ("Please vote for me on______."). It's all crap, crap, crap to distract us from the fact that publishers buy into media clap-trap and expect their authors to dance to the tune and jump through the hoop—whatever that happens to be.
Actually, I'm not that hip, I just keep a Google alert set up for whoever is covering the book business for the NY Times. A crude antenna, but it sometimes works :o)

Publisher's Lunch also had an appetizer on this - it doesn't sound promising. I think Naomi's right, it's not likely to work. And authors soliciting votes does sound like a test to see how hard you're willing to campaign. Yikes, we need campaign finance reform!

I wonder, though, if this isn't a response by old-school publishers to try to get some kind of handle on read/write culture (while seeming to really miss the boat here...) We've grown so used to communicating two ways in places like this, on blogs, commenting on news organization websites, Metafilter, you name it ... yet most editors still get paper manuscripts in the mail that they mark with pencil. And a year later, after coordinating cover art and design and marketing (if there is any) and publicity (ditto) they FINALLY find out if anyone's interested. I think they're casting around for ways to get the audience involved in the front end of the process, but they don't really know how. Or rather - in this case - they're willing to let an entrepreneur do it for them.

This does not seem like the way to do it. But then - if you described the publishing process today, that wouldn't either!!
Barbara, thanks for letting me use that quote. I did the interview, and have it up on my blog now.

With a link to this discussion...
Well done! Good for you for going to the source and asking questions. I still have my doubts, but I have a better sense of what they're trying to do.
I'm reminded of how often we're told that the internet culture covers only a tiny fraction of the real population when it comes to opinions, likes, dislikes, save-our-show campaigns, etc.

Even if they did something like have customers fill out a brief questionnaire at the check out counter of brick-and-mortar stores, they'd have a hard time getting enough honest cooperation to make something like this work. People might buy the book the first time they do it, out of curiosity, but if it doesn't live up to the hype, it's not going to continue to work, and future projects will be ignored.
I just had one of those weird sideways mind-leaps. Nature, one of the most respected journals in science, did an experiment this past year in which they said "peer review is flawed, since such a small number of readers is involved; let's see if putting articles out for anyone and everyone to review works better. I mean, science is a joint venture, right?" It turned out the articles they posted out there got less attention and fewer useful comments than those sent to two or three chosen reviewers.

I don't know that that experiment has anything to do with this one, other than that I really wonder who will take the time to do the predictions unless they have a vested interest (like "my friend/cousin/worst enemy has an excerpt up there")? I mean - why do all that work? Scientists care just as deeply about their literature as we do ours - and they couldn't be arsed, even for a highly prestigious journal.
There are books I've READ that meant a lot to me but were no where near being bestsellers. That didn't mean that they weren't well written. There are bestsellers that I've READ that I liked also.

In my view, you can only tell if a book is valuable to yourself if you've READ it. Obviously these publishers are not talking about that. The problem is they want their money before you've READ it. If you notice the bolded, capitalized text in this post you'll see what I think a book's value should be based on. That is what used to create/generate the Bestseller's list. Are books becoming commodities?

A few TV shows seem to use this sort of system also. One of the major networks, I forget which one, is putting clips of Fall shows on their site and asking viewers to vote. Perhaps this is the new marketing system?
What annoys me is the broadcast news show that asks us to vote on which news we're interested in seeing. It's only choosing which silly feature to broadcast, but still ...

I vote for no wars, no economics, nothing complicated, but I'll have a double helping of murders and cute animals, please.

Grrr. The commodification of everything.


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