let’s go all the way (a meditation on the publishing industry)

The world of publishing has never been without its politics. Historically, the politics have been an inside game, safely embedded within the communities of academia or the insular world of the publishing houses of the holy. There have been some notable exceptions in the last decade, such as when it’s entered the Frey or got Le Royed or even twenty years ago when we as a nation learned our first Arab word Fatwa. And even farther out when Mark David Chapman used J.D. Salinger’s cliff notes as motivation to kill a rock and roll saint. All this news was too rife with sex, lies, death threats and Oprah to not hit the populous spin cycle. But as far as the public awareness goes, these instances were few and far between. What seems to be happening now is notable. The publishing world seems to be airing its dirty laundry in a much more public forum. It seems to be piggy backing on our popular culture’s semi-recent embrace of the 24-hour news cycle and the way we as a nation have co-opted politics as entertainment. Well, right on.

I could hardly open a browser in the last couple months without seeing headlines about e-book turf wars, factions of agents and publishers playing games of literary chicken, the Grey Lady herself being called out by bestselling authors as sexist and elitist (They hate us for our Freedom). Not to mention the way that even TV talk show hosts seem to have a new book in the top ten every other week. The freak show has opened its tent to the public and now we get to see under her skirt, the inner machinations and the bizarre cross-section of life that has been hidden just below the surface for so long.

Is this a conscious move? Is this a concerted effort by the publishing industry itself to increase awareness and create it’s own stimulus package in order to save this changing (not dying) industry? Even if it’s not, it should be. What better way to get people to buy books or at least take interest in them, than to create a sensation, a movement, a war? And not just the way it always has, by leaking some juicy tidbits from the memoirs of actors or ex-presidents. That’s played out and TMZ and others have already taken over that turf. The publishing industry (not “the book” industry) has to formalize its approach and begin creating political parties and divisions and warring factions. It’s already there; they already have a head start and a bunch of practice. What they need to do is codify it and create a left and a right, as well as a few fringe factions.

Who will be the industry’s Palin, the lipstick to the literary bulldog, our new Angle, our change that we can believe in? We need to start polling and lobbying and bring the fat cats to their knees, even if they are malnourished. We need a revolution that’s televised, if we expect people to take interest in our words or our thoughts or our royalties. We need to step up and take our message to the public, lest we just become more Kindling for the fire that burns our books up for good.

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