Well, a lot of publishers have in fact done away with their slush piles. They don't take unsolicited manuscripts. For some, you have to have an agent to submit a book to them. For others, you can send a query letter and they will let you know if they want to read the book.
My Helpful Friend (MHF) sent me a link to an item on Book Standard, but the link didn't work so I had to find the item through Google and look at the cached page. Here's the first paragraph:
"A new website that helps authors break out of the slush pile has launched and is on the lookout for new voices in literature. Slush Pile Reader, founded by Johanna Denize, her husband Pascal Denize, and Henrik Kemkes, gives authors the chance to submit their manuscripts and then have readers vote on whether or not the book should be published."
The Slush Pile Reader site, is not finished yet but it already has an interface for readers to sign up and for writers to submit work. As I read the rules, the readers only see the first 50 pages. No one sees the rest of the book unless it is, in fact, published. Books that get the most votes will be published by the folks mentioned in the above first paragraph. Sounds okay at first read—the reading public could say what they want to read. MHF was enthusiastic, but I can see some problems.
First, they don't mention what publisher's name will be on the spine of the book, assuming it is a print book. They have a standard book contract as outlined in the Author's Guild site, but there is no explicit mention that I could see of the book's format—will it be an e-book, a mass market paperback, trade press, what?
Second, if I were reading slush and not getting paid for it, I would get pissed as hell at only ever seeing 50 pages. Who wants to get hooked on a story and not find out how it comes out? If the book "wins," it will take months at least, and if it doesn't, you might never know. I would think they would drop out in droves with that kind of deal.
Third, I can see a lot of potential for abuse. If you have enough friends and relatives, you can have people sign on as readers and vote for your book. Maybe the SPR administrators could check IP addresses to see where folks are, but some families are scattered all over the country, so it would be tough to enforce a "no nepotism" rule.
Well, I for one, am taking a wait and see approach. I have an agent, so I'm not desperate enough to see this as a godsend, but I will watch the outcome with interest. Hopefully, MHF will keep me posted.