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.

- tom moody 12-10-2005 5:22 am

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.
- mark 12-10-2005 5:49 am

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?
- tom moody 12-10-2005 5:57 am

"But what if the book had a crappy cover?"
There are so many good science fiction books with covers that are just plain bad art to start out with, and then a lot of times they are made even worse because the lousy illustration has absolutely nothing at all to do with the story. I bet a lot of those cover illustrations were made before some of the books had even been picked for publication!
Hooray for the internet, because now there are sites where we can view archives of old bad science ficton book covers!
- Thor Johnson 12-10-2005 7:47 am

I posted this link before, but here are some covers with style.
- tom moody 12-10-2005 8:25 am

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.
- L.M. 12-10-2005 10:25 am

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.

And how does it work? Behind every one of these successful artists or authors there's a publicity machine shoveling the product down consumers' throats and telling them how sweet it tastes. Why is Franz Ferdinand selling so many records? It's certainly not because their music is that great or unique; there are hundreds of bands as interesting or talented as FF, but without the machine behind them you'll never know their names.

The machine itself creates the demand -- once you realize this, you're inside the Emerald Palace. If you choose to pull the curtain aside (or for our younger readers, take the red pill), you'll see that many of your tastes and preferences have been decided for you by the machine and are not actually your own.

Most artists don't ever recognize that they are merely grist in the giant mill. They truly believe that the reason they get to live in the Hollywood Hills and date beautiful people is because of their great talent and insight. The reality that they are just winners in the great capitalist lottery is too horrible an idea to entertain.

Capitalism is a religion just like Communism, Catholicism or Islam. We capitalists pray by going to our house of worship (the mall) and purchasing Franz Ferdinand CDs. These inevitably fail to quell our unhappiness so we return the next week to purchase the new John Grisham novel. The cycle repeats weekly with a different gewgaw.

Capitalism, like Communism, is an inherently unstable economic system that will eventually be undone by greed. In Communism's case, party members will inevitably acquire excessive influence and apply it immorally. In Capitalism's case, the same thing happens but with the heads of state and industry.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to run down to Starbucks and get a coffee...
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 12-10-2005 9:13 pm

Will Ferguson's novel, Generica, is a funny cathartic riff on the depravity of big bucks publishing. I highly recommend it.
- sally mckay 12-12-2005 5:45 pm

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.
- tom moody 12-12-2005 7:23 pm

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 ^
- Hurri Sundawn (guest) 3-01-2007 9:40 pm

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