The main problem with the new model in online publishing I've described in several recent posts is marketing. As it is in traditional publishing. If you're are a new or middle-list author the amount of your publisher's marketing budget you are likely to corner will be miniscule. Either in relative or absolute terms. As a result, your chances of becoming a bestseller are much reduced.
A similar problem exists with new-style publishing. Take my own experience. By and large I'm reliant on the website Free Novels Online to market my book A Half Life of One. Now, all I know about this site is that it is owned and run by Jennifer L. Armstrong and that it started up in July 1999. I've no idea how Jennifer promotes the site, how many of a staff she has in the marketing department and what her marketing budget is. But here's my best guess. In her spare time. None. Zero. In other words she does it all herself out of the goodness of her heart. Okay, there is a bit of enlightened self-interest here because she also promotes three of her own books at the same time. All the same, she certainly gets my vote of thanks for a remarkable example of public spiritedness.
Notwithstanding Jennifer's valiant efforts I do think this part of the marketing function of the new publishing paradigm could be improved upon with a bit of investment in some professional marketing. The question is, where should the money come from? It strikes me that there are three possible sources:
1 The authors who will benefit from exposure on the site. The site could be owned and operated by the authors for example or they could pay some sort of royalty.
Why would agents/publishers want to invest money in a site which is in some ways in competition with them. Well, because e-publishing and traditional publishing needn't be a zero-sum game. Think about it. Publishers are one of the few industries that develop new products and sell them without any real market research. In effect what they do is toss a handful of dust into the air and hope that some of it comes down as gold.
Try this scenario. A traditional publisher gets hold of - or develops - a site like Free Novels Online. The site is still free for anyone to post their novel to it in return for granting the publisher the first option on their book. The publisher then treats the site as a combination nursery/training ground and a test marketing arena. An online slush pile if you like with the public as readers. The publisher puts some decent money and marketing muscle into the site to make sure it gets plenty of visitors. The publisher then sits back and monitors "sales" of the free novels they are promoting. Those that sell well they convert into conventional books. Everybody wins.
I don't know if this model already exists. I'm sure it could be improved upon.
I'm equally sure that it is an opportunity waiting to happen.