On Good Books and Knowledge

by bdhesse

“The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.”-Walter Bagehot

I came across this quote today and thought it was very interesting. How many of the books published each year are actually good books? This is hard to say because different people like different types of books. How do we determine which books are good and which aren’t? Is the determining factor popularity? Or is there a more objective way to determine the value of a book?
When this quote was written, most people were still illiterate. School was still completely private and very expensive, and education was viewed as a luxery. There certainly weren’t nearly as many books on the market as there are today. So how has time changed this quote? Has the quality of the books available improved or diminished? Most people today, at least in the west, are literate and have easy access to information, so we can write well and know things. But do writers take sufficent advantage of this ability? And has the raise of self-publishing affected the quality of books on the market to any significant degree.
What’s more, how do agents and publishers affect the quality of books on the market? I’d hope that editors can only improve the state of books on the market, but can agents and publishers contribute to more bad books being put on the market than should be there?

What are your thoughts?