When I talk to people not directly involved in self-publishing (as a writer or reviewer) I generally get one of two responses.
Both people really don't know about self-publishing and have not come across, as far as they know, any self-published books. Once told about the phenomenon they usually continue to not really care.
Those who have come across it, in my experience, have hit something they didn't like. This isn't surprising, the only gatekeepers of quality are that the author has to be capable of finishing and publishing the book. And via a service like Lulu this is not anywhere near as arduous as it once was.
This means self-published books are roughly equivalent in average quality to the slush pile at a publisher. The general reader, of course, is not being paid to read this material--quite the reverse.
It seems to me that this means readers of self-published books fall into four rough categories.
1) Whoops I bought a self-published book.
If a local author slips a book on the shelf, a good proportion of the customers will probably not know that iUniverse or Lulu are not third party publishers. Of course this kind of distribution is rare.
2) The fearless adventurer
Some readers will take their chances, at least to begin with, and buy anything that looks interesting.
3) The niche reader
If a reader really wants a book about a specialist topic, and the mainstream presses aren't providing it, they will actively seek out self-published material. They will probably also be somewhat forgiving of variable quality.
4) The referral
Just like the editor dealing with slush, people can try and cherry pick the pile through recommendations and referrals. There isn't a publisher out there selecting what they deem the top few percent, but there are other ways to be selective. The difference is that the reader can try to be selective to meet their own tastes not that of a generic readership.
This is what we are trying to help with. But I wonder. Have any of our reviews influenced anyone's decision to purchase a book?