I had perused the site of the small press Two Dollar Radio and came across the mention of a book called The Business of Books by Andre Schiffrin. I'm glad I learned of it, and I'm glad I eventually read it. The book details the swallowing of publishing houses by a handful of corporations. Disney, Rupert Murdoch, Viacom, to name a few of the few that own all of the major presses, and books are chosen not by the excitement of an editor towards a new work, but by committees, and accountants. This probably isn't news. We've all felt it. Publishing is in a weird state, with such an oligarchy, and digitizing of books, that the best option for a younger writer certainly seems to be the path of pursuing a small independent press with a supportive community, or DIY self publishing.
In the big houses risks are not being taken, if a book won't sell more than 20,000 copies in it's first month, then the idea of that book is not taken on, not given a chance. The accountants are creating the mass market reading lists.
The following passage did strike me, as quoted from the German publisher Klaus Wagenbach:
Let's make this as explicit as possible: If books with small print runs disappear, the future will die. Kafka's first book was published with a printing of 800 copies. Brecht's first work merited 600. What would happen if someone decided that was not worth it?
Whereas some bemoan the ease in which self publishing has made it to where anyone can put a book out there, and yes, there's some bad content that makes it out there, but I'm personally for a plethora of material, and sifting through some "garbage" to find quality, than having a trend towards lack of new material. And because self publishing caught a bad reputation for awhile because of this lack of editorial quality, I think we'll see that turned around, particularly by the DIY writers that want to be taken seriously. And those that pumped out a book as to have a commodity on the market place, because they were impatient, I think we'll see them drop off. We're keeping each other in check.
I'd recommend this book for anyone involved in creative production. Even though the book was written in 2000 and 12 years later the DIY and small independently owned companies have begun to create thriving communities, it's still an important reflection, because the big publishing industry hasn't changed, nor has the make up of industrial corporate structure changed. The Republicans all fight for hands off on business for the sake of "liberty" but the momentum of business growth and mergers, the swallowing and mushing of business into bigger, stickier balls of clay continues, so that we reach a point where censorship doesn't come from the government, but from accountant's suggestions to the big boss. But then again Republicans in some parts of the country are okay with censorship, so they should probably stop co-opting the term liberty. We're certainly not doomed, because arguments are happening. And I'm not by any means against profit. I'd just like to see less of the banks profiting from tricky financial risks, and actual risks being taken on creative stories getting some ounce of profit so they these ventures can sustain themselves.