The gatekeepers’ demise

We went to a lovely lunch yesterday given by a friend who is a very successful writer. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the kind of topics that preoccupy professional writers — the changes that are happening to the book-publishing business; how reviews in big newspapers matter so much less nowadays than they once did; the way agents and some publishers (with some notable exceptions) seem to be in that same dreamlike state of denial one once observed in record executives and newspaper editors; and so on. The one thing my friend seemed entirely unaware of was what Amazon is doing to the self-publishing business. He was shocked by my explanation of the simple process by which one can transform a book draft in Microsoft Word into a Kindle eBook (as Jeff Jarvis did recently, for example). So it was interesting to turn to the New York Times this morning and find this quote from Jeff Bezos in a column by Tom Friedman:

“I see the elimination of gatekeepers everywhere,” said Bezos. Thanks to cloud computing for the masses, anyone anywhere can for a tiny hourly fee now rent the most powerful computing and storage facilities on Amazon’s “cloud” to test any algorithm or start any company or publish any book. Start-ups can even send all their inventory to Amazon, and it will do all the fulfillment and delivery — and even gift wrap your invention before shipping it to your customers.This is leading to an explosion of new firms and voices. “Sixteen of the top 100 best sellers on Kindle today were self-published,” said Bezos. That means no agent, no publisher, no paper — just an author, who gets most of the royalties, and Amazon and the reader.