I’m surprised by the number of people who – after getting used to the idea that Amanda Hocking is making a bucketload of money via the Kindle store – come around to complain that her writing is lousy. Or that she needs an editor. Or that she needs ‘more work’.
These people then extrapolate that complaint to the quality of indie books in general, and how the future of publishing is doomed if we – as publishers, or authors – cannot maintain proper quality control. It’s an old argument, and I’ve heard it countless times before.
Now, it may be true that Hocking is a so-so writer. I’m not going to go there – the writers who read this blog are likely to be better qualified to make that call. But even if we say that her quality of writing is average, we have to accept that that is exactly the point – Hocking’s work is good enough, and good enough is how disruption happens.
Record labels in the music industry weren’t displaced by better technology – they was displaced by lower quality, relatively low-res mp3s. As were the video-rental industry, and the newspaper industry. Youtube videos – while entertaining, cannot possibly compare to a properly produced movie. And yet millions of people tune in every day to short videos and low quality movie torrents uploaded to the Internet.
It’s tempting to see this and conclude that people don’t care about quality – or that they don’t mind stealing work for private consumption. But that isn’t necessarily true. People do care about quality. And, given the right context, people can and will pay for digital content.
All we’re seeing here is the net effect of new technology being used to give people something they want but couldn’t previously get. People live with low quality mp3s because we want a painless way to own individual songs. And they live with low-quality Youtube videos because they’re short, sweet, and painless to procure. (Indeed, the main value proposition of the Internet seems to be that it makes things painless, to the point where consumption becomes casual).
But there are two sides to that equation. Where one part is the Internet giving people things that they wanted but couldn’t previously get, the other part is that it’s new technology that we’re talking about. The fact that it’s new technology being used almost always means that the early adopters would be lower in quality when compared to the incumbents. It took television a couple of years before it became the polished industry that it is today; so it will be a number of years before digital-only record labels and newspapers and publishers reorient their operations to reflect the new dynamics of the web.
People are buying Amanda Hocking ebooks because they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re good enough to read. And that’s the metric that matters, really, because that’s how disruption works: it almost always begins with ‘good enough.‘