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.
Capitalism will fund new content distribution channels to mine value from the long tail. E.g. Amazon and Net Flix. Although technology has the potential to subvert the creator-content provider-content distrubuter-consumer supply chain by enabling digital many-to-many channels (e.g. the web, Cafe Press). Although there will still be some degree of gatekeeping by trusted influencers. But technology provides tools to subvert the concentration of the "means of production" in that arena as well.
Man, the changes can't come soon enough for me. A trip to Borders is so depressing--all these quickie titles produced for the maximum impulse buy potential and then pulped, year after year. When is that system going to collapse, like the old Soviet Union?
"But what if the book had a crappy cover?"
I posted this link before, but here are some covers with style.
That's a great link, thanks. Gorgeous covers. I am also a sucker for the graphic style on the Everyman's Library. Your complaints about publishing bring to mind one of my faves, Nelson Algren, who seemed only to get published with trashy pulp covers, and when he did get writing gigs for periodicals they were usually skin mags. (I have a few of those pulp editions and I think they're beautiful) I've also come across hilariously wonderful 50's pulp style covers for writers like Balzac and Zola. That was how you sold literature in America.
Tom, I've been thinking about this topic lately, but from the music industry angle; the exact same thing happens there. An artist gets signed, fails to sell as much as Eminem or Madonna and gets dropped immediately. For any musician that dreams of "making it big", I highly recommend a trip to Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in LA. There you'll find rack after rack of "next big things" consigned to the dustbins of history. My own CD collection is full of these bands: Course Of Empire, 8 1/2 Souvenirs, Group 87, I could go on and on. Great musicians, great songs, but most people never got to hear them because of the way our system works.
Will Ferguson's novel, Generica, is a funny cathartic riff on the depravity of big bucks publishing. I highly recommend it.
Artists don't have to be victims and has-beens of course, even in the current fucked up system. Another way to "live in the Hollywood Hills and date beautiful people" that has nothing to do with talent is to be an unstoppable monster. We have those in the art world. People who can accept nothing less than total success--because they need sex, or the love they never got as children--so they'll walk over their own grandmothers to get it. Or at the very least, be at every art opening and be up in the dealers' faces every minute of the day until they get a show, and then when the show is up, relentlessly drag collectors over to see the work until every piece is sold. Whew, I'm getting exhausted just writing about it. But being a total self-centered asshole does work for a lot of people.
acculturation^assimilation^accommodation^see page 502 index^Crazy Horse^A Lakota Life^Kingsley M. Bray^its between Long Man & Looking Horse^can you blame me! Mr. Attanasio was the first times^when he heard his heart speaking^my fellow spirits are receding at 493km/sec.effortless for me to catch up^ "Stat crux dum volvitur orbis" if it will help believers^ "Those who give light are recieved by darkness" this last quote is in error^ Light and Light is the Lightworkers mode^except in one interface^that interface can be hinted at only^ a single digit number of all humans on earth have knowledge of it^ Mr, Attanasio miscalculated a little bit ^