>Literature vs. Capitalism

>In the February 2008 issue of Harpers, Ursula LeGuin takes on the corporate publishers and bookstore chains (“Staying Awake: Notes on the alledged decline of reading”). “

Books are social vectors, but publishers have been slow to see it. They barely even noticed book clubs until Oprah goosed them. But then the stupidity of the contemporary, corporation-owned publishing company is fathomless: they think they can sell books as commodities.”

The ruination of the industry is a product of American capitalism, which, apparently, requires that profits continually expand.

“To me . . . one of the most despicable things about corporate publishers and chain booksellers is their assumption that books are inherently worthless. If a title that was supposed to sell a lot doesn’t “perform” within a few weeks, it gets its covers torn off – it is trashed. The corporate mentality recognizes no success that is not immediate.”

The basic message here is one that seems clear: art and capitalism don’t mix.

“Elements of publishing are, or can be forced to be, successfully capitalistic: the textbook industry is all too clear a proof of that. How-to books and the like have some market predictability. But inevitably some of what publishers publish is, or is partly, literature – art. And the relationship of art to capitalism is, to put it mildly, vexed. It has not been a happy marriage.”

And then she asks an important question. Why don’t the corporations just let the literary publishers go off on their own?

“Why don’t they let them go back to muddling along making just enough, in a good year, to pay binders and editors, modest advances and crummy royalties, while plowing most profits back into taking chances on new writers?”

Why indeed?

I doubt we’ll ever get an answer, exactly, but I think this does explain why an operation like Dzanc Books is so desperately needed and welcomed, and why there is surely room for more publishers like Dzanc, and why those of us who care about a healthy, noncorporate publishing “industry” owe it to ourselves to support the Dzancs of the world.

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