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Sometime in the '80s it became the mantra that capitalism wasn't the evil thing hippies said it was, that it was the best bad system we had, and so on. I never really bought the program, though. While to some extent it mediates supply and demand, greed and altruism, too much of it is still predicated on waste, and a bogus sense of competition.
Take science fiction books, just as an example. (Or CDs, clothes, art sold in galleries...) Every year there is a crop of "new, hot" titles. Publicists tout the authors as geniuses, young turks who rock our world like it's never been rocked. Yet a book has one shot at prime rack space. If it doesn't sell, it's yanked and becomes landfill, and the hot author joins the thousands of has-beens who had their moment and failed. But what if the book had a crappy cover? What if an idea that didn't resonate this year rang like a gong the next? Too bad, the system must have winners and losers.
Two authors I'm interested in, Doris Piserchia and A. A. Attanasio, both had multi-book contracts with major houses. Piserchia never really rose above the B list of genre writers, her quirky brilliance notwithstanding, but Attanasio was hailed by the LA Times
in the '80s as a "towering talent" and he got the full panoply of hype for his ambitious first book, Radix.
(Which I am re-reading with rubber-jawed amazement. What a writer, what language, what a sustained high pitch of inventiveness.)
Try finding either on bookstore shelves now. They've been "dropped," the way artists get dropped from galleries and musicians from labels. The shelves are full of newer, presumably more towering talents, and to find the parapets of a few years ago you have to wade into, if not actual landfills, the moldy scrap heap of used booksellers.
You could say, "Ah, that's the way of the world," or as a Republican would say, "Life's tough." I say our way of doing things is suspect. The internet is the first thing that's given me hope that eventually all these novelty-obsessed distributors and gatekeepers will themselves soon be out of jobs, and that independent systems will emerge (such as small, print-on-demand publishers) that allow all titles to be continuously "in print" and all good authors to be found, vetted, and nurtured by their true audiences.