Monday, May 21, 2007

What Are The Odds

On the heels of a recent article in the New York Times about the crap shoot that is publishing comes news that a new on-line focus group is setting up shop. It's not about the votes of the book-buying public that Media Predict is after. They want to know what the odds are that a book will be a big seller.

No, you don't have to read slush or anything like that. Simon & Schuster has come on board, and hopes that you will look at what's listed and vote on whether or not you think a book could make it. Not that you'd buy it, or even read it yourself. They want your opinion on what you see as market worthy. Of course everyone will be entirely honest and above board with it. No one would ever in a million years post the first chapter and then find a computer hacker to skew the results. Never. No indeed.

A site visitor is asked to register, and they then receive virtual money to 'invest', like picking a stock. If the book you select does indeed get a publishing contract, you win. It's all very game-like, this picking, but Simon & Schuster is going to look at the vote tally and then look at the manuscript. If enough people have selected a particular story, maybe it's like a focus group telling the marketing department that this one is going to be well received by the world out there. The acquisitions editors haven't been having the best run of luck, so why not expand the circle of editors and make the participants at Media Predict an adjunct of the publishing house?

The web site is all about the winning, for you, the participant. Would you select the book that you think will be published based on quality of writing, or will you make your pick based on the desire to win the game? This is the sort of shite that S & S usually publishes, you might say, and there's your vote for something you think is worthless and would never buy. Something like Paris Hilton's memoirs or a celebrity cook book. Then your choice makes the cut, victory is yours, and Simon & Schuster puts out another loser of a book that doesn't earn back the advance.

Would you find a way to cheat if your novel was in the running? Sure you'd be a fool not to, with a publishing contract on the line. Why trust to luck, or trust to other site participants being able to estimate the tastes of readers? And what if there aren't quite enough voters involved in the whole process? Wouldn't it be wise to create a load of fictional members and vote yourself in?

In theory, it sounds legitimate and even reasonable, but the books themselves aren't being judged for quality or readability by a real focus group of people who would sincerely consider buying the novel if it were available. Publishing is a crap shoot right now, but is there any sense in turning it into an interactive Internet game?

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