Sturgeon’s Law

Famed science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon was once confronted at a conference by an arrogant jerk who proclaimed to him that 90% of science fiction was crud. Sturgeon responded by saying that 90% of everything is crud.

Raise that percentage higher if you like, to 95% or 99% or 99.9%. The question remains: does the existence of crud in any quantity make a difference to those who are in search of good stuff?

As the gates lose their effectiveness, the gatekeepers begin to worry. In the arena of ebooks, some of that worry is presented as pious concern for the reader. After all, if the market is suddenly flooded with crud, how will the poor reader be able to find things worth reading?

One clue that this concern is bogus is the fact that the book market has always been flooded with crud, as long as it has existed. As has every other market. By people who want to sell you stuff. And since until recently no one could be blamed for the flood but the gatekeepers, one wonders why they will be any more useful in controlling this new flood.

But despite the flood readers seem to have done just fine. In his latest rant Joe Konrath does a magnificent job of deflating the pious (and disingenuous) concern of the gatekeepers in just a couple of paragraphs.

Readers aren’t the ones worried about the scores of new ebooks being released. They have no need to be worried. There are already billions of books in the world. A few more million won’t make a difference.

Readers are able to find what they want, quite easily. They can go into a bookstore and come out with a purchase, even though that store stocks 150,000 titles. They can go into a library, and ten minutes later walk out with a handful of books that interest them.

There are millions of websites, and YouTube videos, and things to buy on There are thousands of choices on cable TV and Netflix and Hula. Yet we’re always able to find gems.

What I like about Konrath’s rant is that he refuses to get caught up in defending his claim that readers can deal with the flood. Since it is obvious that they always have, it isn’t pertinent to his point as to how they do it, and he doesn’t waste precious attention on the details. Instead he goes for the throat of those trumpeting this bogus concern:

So readers aren’t the ones perpetuating this stupid myth that the crap will destroy the world. It’s the writers–specifically the legacy writers–who keep trotting this one out.

The reason for it is disappointingly obvious. Legacy writers no longer feel special, because now anyone with a book can sell it. Even worse, they can sell it for cheap, and get higher royalty rates, meaning these pretenders to the throne can actually make more than those who "earned" their spots in the pecking order by kissing legacy butt and waving around their rejections as badges of honor.

These authors fear loss of income, and are envious of the ease in which indies can self-publish and the money they can earn. But saying that out loud would make them look petty.

So instead, they cloak their fear and envy in a poorly constructed argument that says their real intent is protecting readers from crap.

Newsflash: there has always been crap, and always will be crap. Get over it.


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