(Note that Goldberg is one of those authors who views fan fiction as intellectual piracy, so don’t be upset if you browse his blog and find him trashing fan fiction. At least he’s not batshit crazy about it like Robin Hobb, Diana Gabaldon or Anne Rice.)
For you lazy bums who can’t be bothered to click the link and read the article (Goldberg -- and the title of my post -- is actually referring to another blogger's post), here’s the short version: thanks to sites like Smashwords, Lulu, and Scribd, everyone with a computer and an Internet connection can now write a book and sell it on Amazon. Consequently, the list of self-published titles on Amazon is starting to look a lot like fanfiction.net: a huge and ever-growing list of mostly unreadable crap. This is causing fear and loathing among some professional writers, who have noticed that there are a growing number of people buying crappy $0.99 ebooks.
I can see both sides of this argument. On the one hand, I’m in favor of anything that gives people more freedom. Let anyone upload anything they damn well please (within certain legal limits, obviously). If you can get someone to pay money for it, congratulations.
On the other hand, I do not think they are entirely wrong in saying that this undercuts professional writers. Do "amateur" writers have an obligation to not compete with professionals? Does Amazon have an obligation to act as a gatekeeper? No. But there are a lot of people who are just desperate to be published, to get the validation that comes from someone buying their book. They don’t really care how much money they make, they just want to be a "published author." Which is why so many publishers and magazines can get away with paying writers so little; there are writers who will literally take pennies just to have a publishing credit.
Self-published authors (and their close cousins, ebook-only published authors) are thick on writers’ forums and publishing lists, and how they howl if you point out that most ebook-only publishers are shoestring operations with little or no quality control, and that these authors are almost all people who aren’t good enough to be published professionally. Oh, they’ll talk about how "traditional publishers are dinosaurs" and "the establishment is afraid of change" and of course, they eschewed traditional publishing because their books are just too specialized, too niche, too unconventional, too literary, agents and publishers all turned down their Great American Novel because it’s not Twilight, etc. Everyone has a story of some agent telling them, "This is a great book, but I just don’t see a market for it." (Note for aspiring writers: this is what agents say in lieu of "Your writing is unsellable, but I don’t want to crush your dreams.")
There are exceptions; some books really are too niche to find a publisher, especially in non-fiction. And I understand that epublishing is becoming big in the romance/erotica genres. But if your science fiction or literary novel is only available as an ebook, it’s probably because you're either too lazy or too unskilled to get published traditionally.
Is there anything wrong with authors deciding they don't want to jump through the hoops of the traditional publishing game and face rejection after rejection, and would rather just release their baby on Smashwords for a nominal price and be thrilled with (maybe) a few dozen readers? No. But I think this really does represent a threat to professional writers. I don't think the online slush pile is ever going to completely replace the publishing industry, but it's already a hard economy for publishing, and everyone knows that trying to make a living as a writer is a tough gig. Anything that takes even a small slice out of book sales is going to hurt.
Of course, the same argument could be made against fan fiction. Any reading time you spend on fan fiction is time not spent reading a book you might have paid for.
This is also where the argument fails. Obviously, every fan fiction or self-published novel read by someone looking for cheap entertainment is not a lost sale for a professional writer. Also, people who read fan fiction are usually readers in general and probably buy more books than the average person.
So ultimately, I am on the "pro-crap" side of the argument. But let's at least recognize the crap for what it is.