I recently read an article in the _L.A. Times_ about a guy who had written a novel about the winery business, based on the experiences of his father. He took it to publisher after publisher. Finally, one publishing house told him something like "We don't sell books, we sell authors. And we have plenty of authors right now."
In the print society, publishers decide what has merit. We see what they decide we will buy. In the webworld, everybody has a chance. I think the quality issue Mr. Olsen raises is a red herring in this discussion. The mechanisms that lead people to potentially interesting text have not yet evolved beyond string searches and recommended "cool sites." The people who recommend a "cool site of the day" are not using literary criteria, but eventually (actually soon) there will be more knowledgeable people making more sophisticated recommendations. What harm is it if the publisher's slush pile gets put up on the net instead of returned to the author with a polite note?
The real issue here is a massive shift of power. Now someone else gets to sort the slush pile and make the recommendations. We can do it ourselves, or follow other critics. Eventually (perhaps soon?) well-worn paths will be established once again.
I think Mr. Olsen is succumbing to a common net surfer malady. There is so much junk on the net that after a time one begins to long for a more structured, more predictable environment, with clear values and recognized standards. I think when that environment evolves on the web we will be nostalgic for the current ferment and excitement.
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