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A plague of industrial authors: A further answer to Le Guin


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post Are You Sure, Ursula, in which I questioned whether Ursula K. Le Guin knows what she’s talking about when she charges Amazon with the crime of controlling what Americans read and dumbing down American publishing. As part of my argument, I mentioned local public libraries, in which books by a single author fill one, two, and often three shelves. These industrial authors dominate the stacks.

I was in a library today and took 25 photos of examples of this. Those 25 photos were just a sample, because I was in a hurry to get to an appointment. I’ve attached only one sample photo to this post. More would be redundant.

Who are some of these industrial authors? I recorded some of their names and looked them up on Wikipedia:

Clive Cussler has published more than 60 novels.

W.E.B. Griffin has published 38 novels under his own name, but he also has published under 11 pseudonyms.

Gilbert Morris has published more than 100 novels.

James Patterson’s books have sold more than 300 million copies.

Anne Perry has published around 90 novels.

Tracie Peterson has published around 90 novels.

Karen Robards has published about 50 novels.

Stuart Woods has published about 65 novels.

Danielle Steele has published more than 100 novels and has sold more than 800 million copies.

Stephen King has published at least 54 novels and has sold about 350 million copies.

Karen Kingsbury has published about 55 novels and has sold 13 million copies.

Robin Cook‘s novels have sold about 400 million copies.

I have never read a single book by any of these authors and never will. But industrial novels like this fill more than half the shelf space in our local libraries. Industrial authors obviously make a killing for the publishing industry. They hog the shelf space and push other authors out of the libraries. Their dominance of the publishing industry greatly reduces the odds that new authors will be published, read, and discovered by the reading public. How is any of this Amazon’s fault? This has been going on for years.

If you look at the bindings on these industrial books, you’ll find that the editions often are the same size, with the same cover design. They are meant to be identifiable as a set on library shelves. The author’s name on the spine often is more prominent than the title. In other words, it’s a brand.

Nobody could possibly write 100 good books. In fact, I question whether most people could even write 100 books at all. I suspect that, in many cases, ghost writers are doing the work.

Whether this is the fault of the publishing industry, or whether the public’s bad taste is at the root of it, is probably a chicken-and-egg question. The phenomenon also reminds us of the bell curve. Most people are pretty much just like other people, and weirdos like me live out on the fringes of the bell curve. This does puzzle me, though, because I would have thought that people who read are more individuated than that. Clearly I’m wrong.

In any case, I cannot see how Amazon can be blamed. In fact, I buy far more books from Amazon because of it, since I can’t find anything to read at public libraries.

One Comment

  1. Jo wrote:

    You are right – Amazon is not to be blamed for this. To date, I have only purchased one book to read on my iPad. This was when I was baby-sitting young children, and I fully intend to request this book in hard cover for my birthday. Somehow, I just need to hold a “real” book in my hands. Though I did not stay “on point” in this comment, believe you get my drift. I have read your posts for years and thoroughly enjoy them.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 12:26 am | Permalink

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