Surely everyone has heard of Kindle. First there was Amazon - cheap books by mail order, then cheap just-about-everything by mail order. Then cheap second hand books by mail order. With bookshops closing on the High Streets, Amazon seemed set to take over the world.
And then they launched the Kindle, their own e-reader. This moved them from bookseller to publisher in one easy step. Download your Kindle version of Favourite Author's book. No more tiresome trips to the shops to buy a book - you can have the electronic version in seconds. So easy. It was only logical that Kindle would move into Direct Publishing, giving everyone and his auntie the chance to put their magnum opus online for the world to read.
And why not? It's democratic, after all. In the Bad Old Days authors had to get past the Gatekeepers, as agents and editors fondly viewed themselves. Unless a deluded or misguided author was conned by a Vanity Publisher into parting with their pension for the joy of owning a garage full of copies of their unsellable memoir, this was the only route to publication. But not any more. Now you can upload your manuscript quicker than you can say "Unsolicited Manuscript". No fuss, no rejections, just instant fame and - possibly - fortune.
And some Kindle authors have done rather well. Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking have become rallying cries for the Kindle Crowd. Quite how many Kindle millionaires there will eventually be is too soon to know. Will early interest dry up once the novelty wears off and quality issues turn the tide? Or will it herald a new age of real reading choice where you can buy a book on anything by anyone for as little as you are willing to spend?
Needless to say this is a hot topic on writers' boards. I don't belong in either camp - the argument does tend to get polarised and unnecessarily heated. It seems to me nobody knows what the future holds and all we can do is wait and see.
But, with the ease of publishing on Kindle I'd hazard a guess more people are putting their books up there than subbing to agents/editors these days. This is bound to reduce the slushpiles considerably. I've seen it said agents are paying more attention to self published books and it has been suggested they will eventually replace the slushpile altogether. Amanda Hocking is a case in point. If you can self publish and sell well you make yourself a hot commodity.
Launching a new author is a hefty investment for a publisher which is why so few get accepted. But self-publishing on Kindle is free - no cash outlay other than whatever the author spends on it. I can see why people would choose the instant gratification of having a book published there, even if no one ever buys it, over the relentless cycle of revision/rejection. That doesn't make them all undiscovered gems, nor does it make them all rubbish. But as the numbers grow the challenge is going to be finding the former in amongst the latter.