Monday, August 13, 2007
 
Angus & Robertson in the UK demands equilization payments to continue stocking works by smaller publishers Publishing, like all the businesses connected with the arts, has always been an arena in which dreams and ideals struggle with the need to stay afloat commercially. Somewhere in that struggle lies a meaningful trial of truth. But since the 1970s (at least I've heard that date bandied about by fellow authors) the profit-only approach has been taking over until stories like "A&R dumps books" on the Sydney Morning Herald Blog come as no surprise at all. In a nutshell, Angus & Robertson ran the numbers, discovered 40% of their suppliers are not profitable for them to stock, and billed the bottom 40% of publishters the difference on threat of no longer stocking any of their books.


Common sense? Maybe. But I, for one, do not like the masses deciding for me what is and is not "good" in a good and do not want to be stuck with a diet of best-sellers. There's nutrition in some of them, to be sure, but for the most part they read like fast food!


If readers like me, with the ability to think for myself and the desire for a varied diet, are becoming rare: so be it. The industry that feeds us will become smaller. But I, for one, no longer trust the "best-seller" or "award-winner" label on books. Sometimes it is meaningful. Sometimes it is not. And I've also read great books that never collect either badge. I'd rather browse the small presses and think for myself than be stuck with what someone with a calculator in a backroom decides is good because it sold the most. That is why I review books on "Lynda Reads" and elsewhere. Books are the art form I most enjoy. And I can make up my own mind about what is good and what is not.


As a writer, I will continue to struggle with my own balance to find truth-in-business. But if bottom-line profitability at ANY cost is the only way to stay in business, then that is much too crude and unsatisfying a truth for art--and let's face it, there are MUCH easier ways to make money than writing books. If money is all it is about, then writers and publishers are all barking mad! I wish people would spend more time and energy thinking about why we do this crazy thing instead of mugging little old ladies because then we might begin to make progress in groping towards a new paradigm more satisfying to hearts and minds than the bottom-line.

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