There's an interesting discussion here about book discoverability, and how the top-selling authors take all the attention, so that it's very hard to find midlist authors to read.

I don't think there was ever a perfect era of book discoverability, but things were definitely better for the midlist when we had more bookshops, libraries, and magazines recommending a number of different authors to different audiences. Now, it's all or nothing with few algorithms.


I work in a library, and this reflects my experience. We're still used for checking out materials, but as more patrons shift to using digital books or skip librarian interaction and just pick up holds, mid-list authors are now suffering in our collection as the algorithms decide for patrons more. So many good books are missed now.

@haven4books i feel like we're on the cusp of not being able to fix this with in-person recommendations, if everyone is getting the same recs from big companies. It's the benefit libraries and small bookshops brought. I'm not sure how to square that circle and democratise choices again, or at least disperse them amongst a range of subject-matter experts.

@rosjackson just nitpicking here but the midlist's death has actually been going on for more than just a decade or two... i remember delany talking about it in an essay (or possibly two essays) dated as far as the eighties, i think? like, he was talking how best sellers work and how a number of slots is decided out of comp lit so basically big publishers decide which books are gonna inundate the market and are aimed to hit a certain targeted number of sales from the beginning... (delany was saying that if some of his older works that used to be part of the midlist were submitted at the (then) present time in the eighties, it'd be impossible to have them published 'cause of the slots not being available or just plainly not existing now for books similar to his)

but yeah, it really got worse with the internet and its fracking algorithms...

Yes, this is important. Reco algos often acts as a lever, further increasing what's already popular at the expense of everything else. (For graphics artists, the equivalent is duplicating a layer setting the top one to Overlay blend. Or to just jam an S-curve in the curves view. For music producers, the equivalent is, hmm, what's the opposite of a compressor? It pushes high amps up even more and shushes out the low amps.)

This is also why I don't want Mastodon's discover page.

(As a piece of trivia, the first couple of drafts of Yesterday had the main char failing even though he had the Beatles' songs but they thought no-one would wanna watch that.)

Growing up, I'd always have an aversion to the popular stuff, feeling "that thing has enough eyeballs already, let me see if I can find some hidden gems". Later on, I started valuing shared experience more, but, with moderation. If we cut off the long tail we trap human thought in a tiny box.

Maybe the solution to this algo-hell is…even more algorithms. A low-pass filter for reco that skips the top. (And if that makes new stuff become the new top, then those are skipped.)

Of course, we could just #SayNoToDiscover and keep life easy and good.

@Sandra @rosjackson So, since I've been a publisher, small trivia here to dispel that myth a little: the same words published now as opposed to e.g. the 60s would likely make a book three times as thick.

Mechanically, this is due to page margins, font sizes, line spacing, etc.

But the reason? On a bookshelf, it's the spine that grabs attention, so making it fatter creates more ad space.

Fatter books means fewer books per shelf row.

Fewer books means...

@Sandra @rosjackson ... more need to invest into that stunning illustration on that fat book spine.

You see where this is going.

The best thing about bookshops is that they introduce more variables, especially if they're independent, and are therefore harder to remotely steer by a marketing department.

But bookshops are not a panacea, and probably less of a solution than one might wish for.

The best recommenders are people, and people have limited...

@Sandra @rosjackson ... capability to consume and recommend.

I suspect the solution is independent book blogs, or some such. Which implies financing the bloggers somehow.

It'd pretty messy. I've spent, uh, entire business plans on these things, and I don't think there's any silver bullet. Sadly.


But people themselves are now also being algorithmed.

@jens @Sandra Financing book bloggers is a bit of a thing that never happened. Even when popular, book bloggers to spend more than they make in advertising, on blog hosting, events attendance, etc. Plus reading takes a long time.

@rosjackson @jens

One of my best friends is a book blogger, he gets review copies and commissions but that's it. It's definitively an in-the-red, labor-of-love for him.

@Sandra @rosjackson I think that's generally the case, yes.

But review copies and commissions are... well, they're supply side financing, which turns the blog into an advertising channel (or risks it, if the financing becomes viable).

I'm thinking more demand side financing.

@jens @Sandra I think the problem with that is, unless you're massively funny, there isn't a lot of demand for individual reviews. But, there is a use for them as long as you can filter them somehow to "people with similar tastes to me" or this mood I'm in right now" or some such. So it still ends up being micro-finance for the reviewer.

@rosjackson @jens

Making a full, sustainable living from writing feels like… I haven't even tried. And y'all know I write an esston of words #prolific

@Sandra @jens OMG. I've written 5 books and feel like a slacker. Money? What is that?

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