There's been some recent buzz about IndieReader, a new service for self-published books launched by commercially-published author Amy Holman Edelman.
"The fact is," the IndieReader website says, "self-published authors know it's a rough world out there. They get no respect from publishers and little attention from consumers." But "more and more Indie books [are] finding mainstream success (Still Alice, The Shack) and more mainstream authors [are] writing Indie books (Dave Eggers, Noam Chomsky)." IndieReader is poised to become part of this "vast sea change in publishing:"
People are naturally drawn to what’s unique and genuine, be it Indie movies, Indie music...or Indie books. They are tired of hearing about the next John Grisham, of taking their cues from traditional publishers who are afraid of what's new, niche and different. They are hungry for something like IR—and with a team that has a combined 40 + years of public relations and marketing experience—we plan to give it to them. In short, what Sundance has done for Indie films—making what's outside the mainstream "cool"—IR will do for Indie books and authors.
(You all probably know my opinion of this kind of sloppy use of the term “indie,” but that’s not the point of this post, so I won’t make a fuss about it here.)
As "the premiere community of self-published and print-on-demand authors," IR will promote, market, and sell self-published books on its website. For an annual fee of $149 ($25 of which is a submission/reviewing fee), plus an extra $25 per book if they want to publicize more than one, authors get their own Web page and URL (here’s a preview), and keep 75% of the proceeds from any sales (IndieReader gets a 25% commission).
So far, so good--and not so very different from other self-pub-focused book listing/selling websites, such as Jexbo or Publitariat Vault. But there's a twist: IndieReader will be selective. "[G]ood books must be in good company, and so we reserve the right to exclude books that don’t meet certain standards of quality, both in terms of basic spelling and grammatical errors and content." According to IR’s FAQ, this vetting will be done by "editors, literary agents, publicists and just plain book lovers." Who they are or might be isn't revealed, though Ms. Edelman provides some clues in a recent interview. There’s also this job listing, which suggests that at least some IR vetters will be college students.
What if your book doesn't pass muster? Well, you can choose to participate in ReadRoxie, IRs non-vetted book listing site (which doesn’t yet appear to be online), or you can get a refund of your annual fee, less the $25 reviewing fee. You have to delve into IndieReader's Terms and Conditions to discover these last two facts. Some other significant provisions of the Terms and Conditions:
- Authors must fill orders within two weeks (if they don't, IR can cancel the order "and count these orders against your fulfillment rating").
- They must make sure the info on their Web pages is "accurate and current."
- They must maintain a "reasonable return policy," (the cost of that, along with shipping and handling, appears to be passed on to the buyer).
- They must agree "not to take any action to discourage customers from making purchases on the website" (a rather broad stricture that could cover a lot of things, including, conceivably, successfully promoting book sales on your own website).
- They may terminate their relationship with IR at any time with 10 days' notice--but IR reserves the right to terminate also, for any reason, including authors' failure to timely fulfill orders.
IndieReader is an interesting concept. Considering the many opportunities the Internet offers for self-published authors to throw money away on worthless marketing and promotion schemes, the $149 membership fee doesn't seem outrageous (and before anyone decides to pillory me for not getting angry at Ms. Edelman for requiring a $25 submission fee, I see this as analogous to a contest entry fee, rather than to an agent's or publisher's reading fee). Still, there's plenty of reason to be cautious, in my opinion, mainly because IR is new and unproven. Can IR really market its way to the kind of visibility that will justify its fees? Will the screening process be rigorous enough to fulfill its promise of quality (hmmm...college students)? Important questions, since these are the things that principally distinguish IndieReader from other book listing/selling websites--and presumably will be major publicity hooks for it.
If you don't know a great deal about the self-publishing community, you might suppose that self-pubbed authors would be open to the idea of a new and relatively low-cost service designed to help them achieve greater visibility. You would be wrong. IndieReader has been greeted with a good deal of skeptical and even angry discussion--much of which centers on the vetting process. An apparently harshly critical post at the Publishing Renaissance blog has been removed, but the paragraph quoted at Self-Publishing Review gives a sense of what must have been the tone:
Once again, we see Old Publishing trying to shoehorn it’s methods into the new Internet environment. It’s the same 20th-century, top-down, corporate approach to deciding the value of media — an approach which runs antithetical to the realities of the business of media on the Internet. Just take a look at how online booksellers such as Amazon, or book recommendation websites like Goodreads help individual readers decide what to read next. They don’t make recommendations according to what a small number of tastemakers have chosen; instead, the recommendations are based upon community input and involvement.
Though the post is gone, the comments remain (including several responses from Ms. Edelman), and they make for interesting reading. Valid points are raised about shipping procedures, the listing fee, what makes IndieReader different or better (or not) from similar services, whether IndieReader will be capable of providing enough of a sales boost to make it worth authors' financial while--but much of the discussion revolves around the screening process, which many of the commenters seem to feel is elitist ("Why form a special club that will shut some out based on the taste of you and those you’ve employed? How is this better than the system we already have in publishing?") or unnecessary ("It is readers now who judge and recommend, and social network, and etc. This is the internet, welcome to it.").
Given the extreme sensitivity of so many self-published authors to the issue of gatekeeping, I don't find this reaction surprising. Just as much as IndieReader’s promise of quality screening, however, it’s a tacit acknowledgment of the problem of perception that afflicts self-published books. Whether you admit the need for quality control, or decry it as a poisonous relic of "Old Publishing," it’s still the elephant in the self-publishing room.