Christopher Harris has a thought-provoking essay up at The Digital Shift in which he argues that self-published books are “not a solution” for K-12. He argues that publishers “serve a critical role in the information ecosystem” by vetting and recommending quality books to school librarians, who often work alone without the benefits of a large paid staff to assist them in their book-buying choices.
I sympathize with the task Harris, and other school librarians, face. But I think he misses the point that publishers have the prominence they do simply because until recently, we lacked the technological abilities for anyone else to do the job equally. It’s not that the publishing industry considered several equally viable models, debated the pros and cons, and chose among them to get the best choice. They defaulted into their power by the limits of the best business models of the 18th century. It doesn’t mean that, now, there is not a better—or at least, as good—way.
I question, too, his unfailing trust that the publishers, “professional review sources” and aggregators he mentions truly do have his best interests at heart. They are in business to sell books, or magazines, or newspapers, or whatever it is they sell. Publishers are not advertising to library buyers out of some earnest desire to Help the Children. They are doing it because they produce a product his demographic buys! That doesn’t make them evil, but it does mean that perhaps Harris should trust in them a little less blindly.
So, will self-published books be a viable option for school libraries? Sure. The “professional reviewers” might not be vetting to every single Smashwords offering just yet, but the good stuff will spread by word of mouth the same way it always has.
Harris might not read every self-published kids book, but he might read one or two, and recommend them to his librarian friends if they are worth it. If every school librarian comes across just a handful of gems, that would add up to enough books to stock a whole library!