Reluctantly at the end, Gilmer admits quickly:
A bad side effect is that without barriers to entry, a lot of non-professional-quality content creates clutter. But to some degree, crowd sorting (via online reviews and such) can cope with that.
A-ha! Herein lies my problem with a new frontier, this every-man-for-himself concept. If publishers disappear and everyone publishes her or his own book, with those with the best reviews rising to the top... I just don't trust that system. And I refuse to hear that it's democracy at its best, as we cannot make social darwinism and capitalism into democracy. I don't mean to be some naysayer, some kind of brahmin calling for some protected reading class, but having someone discover the wonders of marking down a product to increase sales is not exciting to me, and in fact it's politically and artistically dangerous.
We can take these lessons but should use them to form collectives, whether inspired by particular artistic and/or social justice movements. An author bragging about his rankings is just frustrating. It has the painful tone of a late-night infomercial to me. "I found success, and so can you!" I prefer Mike Shatzkin's ideas at the Idea Logical Blog (linked from MobyLives), though I have not fully digested his close critique of Motoko Rich's recent article on e-book pricing. Shatzkin poses the question, "if the looming problem for publishers with ebooks is their margins (and I think we can agree on that), then why not mention the ultimate solutions: publishers selling digital downloads directly to consumers and, at the same time, reducing the discounts off retail (the margins) offered to intermediaries?" Again, this idea can be incorporated into a collective idea to keep schools of thought (and action) together in a publishing model, with significant changes to keep on top of the retail environment.
One voice of reason in these debates happening everywhere on e-books is PublicAffairs founder and editor-at-large Peter Osnos, who writes over at the Daily Beast about publishers packaging formats together to meet the needs of today's readers. Now I'm listening.
For readers, the ideal development would be to make books portable. In this scenario, you would buy a printed hardcover or paperback book for, say, $25 and could then activate it as a digital file or downloadable audio from an embedded password. Ergo, the book becomes a multiplatform object transferable wherever the reader wants to go.
Smart - like records with codes for free downloads. This is the kind of not-throwing-baby-out-with-bathwater approach I can understand, that can offer a way to incorporate technology and reader interests without scrapping some good aspects of the current publishing model.
This e-book stuff is exhausting, but the debate is very necessary. What still amuses me ultimately is the snail's pace at which publishing moves, but I'm also thankful for it - so books should survive for at least one more generation, right?!