I’m adding an addendum to yesterday’s blog post
as I’ve become a little strident about the difficulties facing small presses.
If ever there was a model of how the corporate world has an industry stitched up, book publishing is it.
A book publicist mentioned to me in a Facebook comment words to the effect that the Penguins and the Random Houses supply bookstores with reading copies of their new releases at least four months in advance. Four months!! Let’s not be naive about this. That’s a lot of $$ outlay, working on long lead times.
The large publishing houses have whole publicity teams working on promoting new releases. Terrific for those authors propelled along the conveyor belt towards celebrity and bucket loads of prestige. I call them ‘the in crowd’ as there’s no better way to describe it.
Nepotism abounds in book publishing as does elitism. What matters to the corporate publishing houses is in large part who the author is and how she and her book might be marketed, not the quality of her written word.
That is not to say that vast numbers of Editors and staff working for such corporations are not dedicated to the discovery and the promotion of quality material. I fully acknowledge and respect their efforts. My grump is not with them.
The world’s major publishing houses are oligarchs. They are in the business of swallowing smaller imprints and dominating the market. They have become so huge it’s breathtaking. They’re up there with Murdoch and Monsanto.
As I said in yesterday’s post
, the large publishing houses overwhelm bookstores with their presence.
The big houses fund literary prizes, help select judging panels and therefore influence which book (one of their own perchance) will win.
They can afford or have already bought copy space in literary review sections of major newspapers and the like.
In other words, the Penguins and the Random Houses are in the business of dictating to the public what to read.
I’ve heard it said that only cookery books are making money in Australia, that numbers of readers are dwindling making it hard to sell fiction.
I disagree with the logic of this view as it omits the fact that marketing and advertising shapes public taste. When will SBS, for example, advertise some works of fiction?
Fortunately for the switched on reader, there’s an alternative, a way to opt out of the factory-style book industry, a way to make a statement of protest against the oligarchs, or simply a way to show support for those struggling to survive alongside it – by buying a small press title.
Such an act is no new thing. I recall buying Virago (now owned by Little Brown) and Women’s Press books back in the 80s based on the imprint as much as the author. I saw it as a political act.
At many small presses, publishers are dedicated to discovering fresh quality writing. They take risks on unknown authors. They keep the whole book industry alive with innovative, imaginative, passionate works.
And they cannot compete with the big guys.
Which is why it is my belief that small presses and their authors need to link arms to help make their presence felt more strongly in the book reading community.
In my view small press authors especially need to come together and take a stand. Many already are. I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t already seen much evidence of the alternative model in action.
More and more I’m seeing my own literary career in political terms – the politics of globalisation that is.
Globalisation has always equalled centralisation (mergers, corporate empires and so on), and the emergence of alternatives out on the rim. I’ve already pitched my tent.