On (Not) Publishing Under Late Capitalism

I have a friend who is writing a book for Random House where his editor was Colin Robinson -- a very happy situation, while it lasted. Colin's article about his departure appears in the London Review of Books.

It is not too surprising that he quickly turns it over into a precise description of the economic mechanisms involved in his fate. Without giving too much away, it happens that we share a background in a certain political movement tending to emphasize such things.
Some of his conclusions about the shape of things to come are a sort of compounded extrapolation of tendencies that Theodore Solotaroff identified more than twenty years ago in "What Has Happened to Publishing" (not available online but there's this). At one level the present conjuncture is just speeding things along. To quote Colin's piece from LRB:

A system that requires the trucking of vast quantities of paper to bookshops and then back to publishers' warehouses for pulping is environmentally and commercially unsustainable. An industry that spends all its money on bookseller discounts and very little on finding an audience is getting things the wrong way round. Following the strictures of their accountants, the large houses will intensify their concentration on blockbusters. High street bookshops will abandon deep stockholding, becoming mere showrooms for bestsellers and prize-winners. Ever more people will read the same few books. The future of much of the industry will be dominated by electronic distribution, internet marketing to niche audiences, and reading by print-on-demand or hand-held electronic devices. There is opportunity as well as challenge in this model. The roles of editor and publicist, people who can guide the potential reader through the cacophony of background noise to words they'll want to read, will become ever more important.

The word "publicist" here is jarring, perhaps. With certain honorable exceptions (you know who you are) publicists tend not to be up to this.

But to quote another article touching on the word's history: "It had once referred to an informed and authoritative writer on public affairs--something like wonk but with more honorable overtones." Lenin wrote a number of articles called "Notes of a Publicist." I recall this point not entirely by chance, or as a result of the stream of consciousness winding its random way....
February 26, 2009 12:55 PM | | Comments (3)



Speaking of shifty meanings: Is it not about time that "Late Capitalism" should be refashioned as "Dearly Departed Capitalism"?

Actually, your suggestion, nnyhay, is not entirely necessary because the term "Late Capitalism" can also serve your purpose -- provided it's understood that "Late Capitalism" does not refer to what followed "Early Modern Capitalism."

Rather, it means "Late," as in "recently deceased" -- like "The Late George Apley" or "The Late Great Planet Earth."

In this regard, it's apropos that one of the code words I'm about to type to submit this comment is the date "1929."

Granted, but I had hopes of adding value with the double meaning of dearly ...

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