Red Lemonade has opened its doors for business. It’s sort of part Smashwords, part Goodreads, and part old-fashioned workshop, where anyone can publish writing and everyone can annotate, comment on, and argue about the work. If you just want to read, Red Lemonade is cool with that too: the books are free, although you should know that they don’t come in downloadable ereader formats and the quality may vary.
The idea — to essentially crowdsource the slush pile (or to “make it social” if you prefer), and thereby turn it into a form of cheap, high-volume/mixed-value content — is the same as what some bigger publishers are doing; Harper Collins has authonomy, and last month Penguin revealed its new site Book Country. All three sites assume you will join to share your own writing as well as read, and although they make no promises, there’s a chance an editor might discover you and offer you a contract.
I don’t have an issue with this approach, and it certainly seems like in theory it could prove more accurate than the current system at helping publishers find marketable books.
But I’m not personally interested in spending too much time on any of these sites right now. The larger the slush pile grows — and let’s face it, the slush pile is now pretty much everything, including the ebook stores from Amazon and Barnes & Noble — the more I want and need some decent curation. The problem right now is that the volume of published work is far too great for current levels of crowdsourced curation to be effective. For example, a Smashwords title might have three reviews, all three of which are from people who know the author. More commonly it will have no reviews at all. Without a publisher’s stamp of approval or some proof from the marketplace that the work is of sufficient quality, the reader has no idea whether to bother.
Red Lemonade might address some of this in the coming months. There’s a Featured section where presumably Red Lemonade’s staff passes an editorial filter over submissions and chooses worthwhile titles to promote, and I’m optimistic that this could be a good source of free new works by new authors.
At launch this morning Red Lemonade has only 54 titles, which seems very manageable from a crowdsourcing perspective. By contrast, over the weekend Smashwords announced that it has now published two billion words from authors. You’ll need a lot of battle-hardened readers to sort through that many words to find the good pieces.
I think the challenge for Red Lemonade and its social slush pile competitors, assuming they grow popular enough, is to create a better ranking and filtering system that helps customers find great things to read — and I suspect the solution will require something more than just crowdsourced free labor. The publisher or website who invents that is probably going to enjoy a huge, and deserved, advantage over competitors in the near term.