The DeBeers Syndrome
as it applies to the tension between traditional publishing and the big houses and print-on-demand (POD) and those on the outside looking in

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I followed a few links about Print-On-Demand (POD) and "self-publishing"bookspict —reading the opinions of those who think it is a good alternative to publishing the traditional way and those who think it is a dark and evil portent of things to come, as one article against POD put it:

"It's nothing short of 'The attack of the Slush Pile.'"

I take the view that POD through one of those online publishers can be a good way for the unpublished masses to be published, especially when the gatekeepers of traditional publishing won't give an unagented manuscript the time of day and consign it to the "slush" pile. These gatekeepers work for New York City publishers as editors. They only recommend titles that will sell, and by that they mean titles that come most likely from agents, most likely from writers who have already been published. These gatekeepers might truly believe that they are saving the reading public from "bad" writing. In actuality, it's the diamond-marketing  technique (keeping the market from being flooded by diamonds that don't come from Debeers mines); or, in the case of these NYC publishers, titles that don't come from the handful of conglomerate houses.

These gatekeepers will tell you that their slush piles do not contain manuscripts worthy of being published, and eventually (usually months) they will get around to shipping the manuscripts back to the writers with a short-shrift rejection slip. So it is no wonder with the advent of POD publishing that these mega-conglomerates have been fretting in print about books flooding the market that haven't come from their houses. They don't want readers to have available anything more than the books that fill the chain bookstore shelves. But "bad" writing?

I'll be the first to concede that POD technology enables anyone with a few hundred bucks to publish anything—good, bad, or irrelevant. Kind of like just about anyone with a computer and a modem can now place a personal site on the world-wide web. Nobody will dispute that democracy is messy, but I much prefer living in a country ruled by the unwashed masses, rather than a dictator. So why should it be any different with anyone who wants to publish a book? If it is good, and here's the point, it will eventually attract attention and sell. If it's bad, as the gatekeepers fear and want to protect us from, it will sink to the bottom of the pile.

Still there is a war brewing as publishing costs go up, as readership goes down or is softening, and as small and medium publishers are either forced out of business by the DeBeers syndrome in publishing or are swallowed up by the big houses, becoming imprints under the "bottom-line" thumb of a mulimedia conglomerate.

The battle lines are drawn and the campaign is afoot. The traditional publishers and their editors seek to destroy the credibility of print-on-demand, claiming that it is the new "vanity" publishing. Meanwhile, online POD publishers like Xlibris (a division of Random House by the way), 1st Books, and iUniverse find ways to attract paying customers. These paying customers are writers who have either failed to get published the traditional way, who have had their books go out of print and want to bring them back (since the majors won't reprint them), or who have determined that they want to be soldiers in this war on the side of POD. I'm one of the latter. I've been published the traditional way, my books have gone out of print, I want to bring them back, and I gladly choose POD over traditional publishing. Online publishers sell mainly through online bookstores, and it is here where traditional publishers and POD publishers meet on a more-or-less even playing field. Buyers don't readily see that a book is POD or tradtional.

But in other fields of battle, traditional houses still hold the upper hand. Print media won't review POD books (except in rare instances), brick and mortar bookstores won't stock POD books (complaining that shorter discounts prevent them from devoting shelf space to them, and claiming, along with the NYC editors that most POD books are crummier than traditionally published books).

In war, as it has been said, truth is the first casualty. And so it is. For example, there is much truth in the editor's accusations that POD books are "vanity" books and that the quality of writing suffers from bad editing. But it is also true that many hundreds (if not thousands) of POD published writers are just as good as those who have managed to be traditionally published.

Again, whether a book is traditionally published or published by POD method, the bad books will sink and the good books will rise.

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