Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Last week Amazon confirmed it’s adding a crowdsourced-based option to its current slate of self-publishing offerings. While details are still forthcoming, the fact that Amazon is taking greater interest in exploring crowdsourcing as a publishing model suggests its profile is on the rise.
To be sure, that observation could rest on a chicken-or-egg formula that doesn’t reliably tell us much about the future of crowdsourcing in the broader digital publishing ecosystem–at least not yet. But the case of subscription ebooks could be instructive. Subscription ebook services had established a growing, sometimes uncertain place in the digital publishing landscape for several years before Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited in July of this year. Gradually, major providers like Oyster and Scribd had managed to grow their catalogs and gotten Big Five publishers to play ball. Just when it became clear subscription ebooks weren’t simply going to vanish, Amazon rolled out its own service.
None of that guarantees that ebook subscription services–whether Amazon’s or anyone else’s–are going to be here five or ten or twenty years hence, and the same is certainly true of crowdsourced publishing models.
But it’s clear the latter have also been gaining steady traction. In one experiment launched this year, Simon & Schuster committed to publishing a novel that wins a student writing contest it’s hosting through its new sci-fi imprint Simon451. More recently, Penguin UK announced it was open-sourcing the editorial process on a multimedia project involving the work of author Stephen Fry.
In many quarters of the indie and start-up world, crowdsourcing is already a fixture of the publishing process, with perhaps the best-known platform being the Toronto-based storytelling community Wattpad. While Wattpad isn’t a publisher, it’s teamed up with several, including Sourcebooks and Harlequin, for a number of publishing ventures. Meanwhile, the Spanish-language crowdscourcing self-publisher Pentian is expanding, as are a range of other initiatives throughout the indie landscape.
All this would seem to indicate there’s a sizable community of authors and readers for whom crowdsourced approaches to content are already second nature. Amazon’s announcement appears to be a play for both. The question for Amazon and others is whether that excitement and familiarity is both scalable and sustainable. In the long run, the answer might be no, but in the short-term I expect we’ll see an increasing number of ventures, like Amazon’s latest, designed to find out.