MERCHANTS OF CULTURE by John B. Thompson

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in the brooklyn rail, a great interview with sociologist john b. thompson on his latest book — a synthesis of five years of research studying the slowly and reluctantly transforming trade book biz.

thompson posits a few interrelated  forces eviscerating the publishing business: the teetering economies of the big chain stores; the increasing power and prominence of literary agents; consequences of the ongoing digital revolution; and the consolidation of publishing houses into public companies who, while in a relatively plateaued industry, are forced to seek bottom-line growth. but while these forces have been elaborated on elsewhere, thompson’s carefully considered analysis is refreshingly absent of both chicken little squawk and futurist drool.

some favorite bits:

Rail: So the change in publishing is certainly more complex than the chat that “e–books are destroying traditional publishing?”

Thompson: Absolutely. The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution. The real trouble for the publishing industry, in my view, has more to do with the gradual unfolding of this economic transformation that led to this structure of publishing, where we now have five large corporate groups and a small number of retail chains dominating the industry. These corporations have to achieve growth year on year, and when that top line revenue begins to fall, as it did when the 2008 economic recession suddenly tipped the narrow profit margins into the red, it has devastating impact throughout and the only way that they can preserve the profit at the bottom line is to push people out, and to reduce their overheads and costs dramatically. You don’t see this in the small houses but the big corporations respond quickly, immediately, because their absolute priority is to protect that bottom line profitability, which they have to report to their corporate bosses. And so that was the real crisis in the publishing industry in the autumn of 2008 to the present. Now, it also happened to be conjoined with an upsurge in e–book sales. Kindle had been introduced in 2007, the Sony Reader a year before that, and there was some impact from these before the recession. But as you moved into 2009, commentators and observers of the industry were seeing that the only thing that had an upward movement in the book publishing industry were e–book sales. Now, of course, that’s misleading because, still, 95 percent of the revenues in the industry are coming from physical book sales. It’s just that the only thing that is growing are e–book sales, so everyone focuses their attention on that and says the “revolution” or the “crisis” of the book publishing industry is about e–books, and that’s not the case actually.

Rail: So it’s largely a media ownership issue.

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Rail: But will e–books become more of a norm as time goes on?

Thompson: There’s no consensus on this issue. I interviewed many, many key players in the digital divisions of all the large publishing houses, as well as the medium and small size publishing houses and everyone is very interested in this topic but everyone has a different opinion about what will happen in the future. Some believe that it will sweep aside the printed book and the printed book will become a relic of the past that you find only on the bookshelves of collectors. Whereas there are others who say it will plateau at some level. Some say it’s going to be 10 percent of readers, others say it’s going to be 20 percent, others 50 percent. Everyone has a different opinion on the matter. My own view is that what we will see is a differentiation of the marketplace. Readers and consumers have many different values, and beliefs, and preferences and you will see some be very happy to read on electronic devices of one kind or another. Others will remain wedded to print on paper and will want books in that form. There are deeply embedded cultural practices around writing and reading and these are not going to change quickly and easily. There are people who believe that technology sweeps all before it, and that technology is really the driving force of social change. I don’t take that view. I regard that as a technological fallacy—the view that technology is a driving force of social change. I think technologies are always embedded in social, cultural context and what technologies get taken up depends on a variety of factors that shape people’s practices and beliefs. There are many examples of technologies that went nowhere. You remember the great CD–ROM fiasco? In the late 1980s all publishers thought that the future of books was the CD–ROM. A lot of money was invested; publishers set up whole units developing CD–ROM technology and then it disappeared. It just didn’t go anywhere largely because it wasn’t very useful. So technology doesn’t produce results in and by itself.

read the whole at: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/11/express/is-publishing-doomed-john-b-thompson-with-williams-cole

a review in the UK’s Times Higher Education: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=413351

pick it up from the library.

poor yorick! soft skull closes its ny doors

soft skull in its peripatetic two decades in nyc went through several upheavals and sometimes was more of a brand than a consistent editorial philosophy. but throughout they were risk takers of a very necessary kind. among other things, they published some of the smarter fiction of the recent past, including authors david ohle, lynne tillman, eileen myles, lydia millet, wayne koestenbaum, and michael muhammad knight. sad to see them go.

cover story of the NY Press reports:

While it might not be the end of Soft Skull altogether, by leaving New York, the press will never be the same. After all, Soft Skull is the quintessential New York City indie press. Born in a Greenwich Village copy shop in the early ’90s, a birth that reeks of Reality Bites-style angst and passion in a still-affordable Manhattan where poets, musicians and anarchists ran amok, the press published progressive books and wasn’t afraid to get dirty.

and the NY Observer quotes a critical Nash:

In an interview, Mr. Nash praised Ms. Oswald’s efforts at Soft Skull and placed the blame for the closing of the New York office on what he said was Counterpoint’s insufficient commitment to publicity and marketing.

“Anne and Denise were acquiring books that exemplified the Soft Skull spirit,” Mr. Nash said. “But another part of the Soft Skull spirit is the drum banging, and their books weren’t getting the drum beat hard enough for them.”

squid scribomania

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buon viaggio signore mari!

two titans of DIY industry, derek of calamari and adam of publishing genius, recently posted about the nature of small press economies here and here. thinking about accounting may be my least favorite activity, but one’s relationship to the means (and costs) of production are — if these accounts are typical examples — never far from a small publisher’s mind:

i guess i’m just TIREd of THinking about all these businessy things | at some point you just have to do what you do naturally & if people buy it great & if they don’t fuck ’em | as a consumer you can spend all the time in the world contemplating the footprint of every piece of fruit you buy at your local market but at the end of the day what sells it [for repeat customers anyway] & makes it all worth it is the TASTE of the fruit itself | i’d rather concentrate my efforts on making tasty book & art objects that are true to their nature [with no additives or artIFIcial flavors] & not worry about the ugly business of marketing & selling the fruit | maybe that makes me a bad «publisher» i don’t know | this whole circle-jerk business of people promoting & selling themselves or their wares or their «friends» is what really gets me down about this book business | it’d behoove me to buy into all it but honestly i don’t see how most people live with themselves | i’d rather fail gracefully than succeed using such tactics | even measuring «success» by the number of BOOKs sold doesn’t make sense to me | Justin Taylor & his HTMLGiant entourage are imploring everyone to buy his new book so it will make the NY Times Bestseller list | that seems about a silly a reason to buy a book as i can think of | they say it will be good for him & the comMunity of independent presses & writers or some such thing but ¿will it really make us better writers? ¿will it really make for better LITerature? it’s a filthy business this trying to wag the dog with it’s tail.

The rest of derek’s post here.

i tend to agree with him but on the other hand, in terms of us versus them or dichotomies of complicity versus subversion — i’ve always taken this wisdom from creeley to heart:

Something lost in trying to kick against the pricks unless the vision, call it, is complete, and secures itself in its own inviolability. Blake says, I am Socrates. John said that in the act of non-adaptation to the demands of an economic system may lie a commitment to the system’s forms far more destructive an involvement than any simple-minded conformity. But such a long and dull sentence it had to seem.

From Creeley’s THE ISLAND.

for what it’s worth, i think ellipsis may look to getting non-profit status some nearfuture day. at least i keep debating that move… even while i dislike the idea of a non-self-sustaining operation and of trying to find handouts, here’s why i think i’ll do it: i don’t necessarily think acts of self-promotion like taylor’s are inherently base (though i admit it turns me off), but i think it’s a tendency or talent (or gluttony) unrelated to that of writing (or if it is related, it seems more negatively correlated than anything else.)

if you are the shepherd of someone else’s book into the world however, some kind of promotion seems to be part of the responsibility. or not. in any case the ellipsis press advertising and distribution plan — such as it is, what a laugh — has been to put up notice in a minimum number of places. enough so that if you were a seeking reader not of an escapist ride but of literary art  (of which i estimate there are about 1,000-5,000 such seekers extant in the u s of a), you’d be able to find ellipsis titles. determining that minimum placement hasn’t been easy, might be a higher bar than i realized, and could require more funds than i’m willing to fork over (thus the non-profit deliberating).  …which reminds me once again of this quote from Scott Walker formerly of Graywolf (which might seem like self-back-patting but is frankly more like a self-warning) :

Starting a small publishing company takes an angel’s combination of idealism, passion, unreasonableness, innocence, naiveté and blind obedience to an inner voice telling you to go heart- and head-long into something utterly likely to fail. It would in fact be a kindness if the venture failed, because success requires so much time and intellectual and emotional energy that it squeezes to death every last healthy impulse you had to start with.

Adriane Tomine New Yorker Cover

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PS from a profile of greywolf here:

[Graywolf Press director and publisher Fiona McCrae] delights in the opportunity to snatch up books a major publisher might ignore and says a Graywolf book can succeed by selling only a few thousand copies. “When we’re not having to pay enormous overhead or debt for an acquisition or that kind of thing, the numbers we need for a book to do well are much smaller. From Faber I learned, rightly or wrongly, that it’s not that books never make money, but that it takes time. Years after it was published, T.S. Eliot’s [Old Possum’s Book of Practical] Cats was bringing in significant revenue. I saw the way publishing and art intersect. The market goes for something that’s done well before, but the most difficult thing is something that hasn’t done well before. When you’ve got this nonprofit structure, you can stick more with the art side. If it’s working artistically, we’ll make the numbers work.”

read the rest of the greywolf press profile at: http://www.citypages.com/content/printVersion/628801

more sermon for the choir

samuel delany in a nice interview in the latest LOCUS:

“As my agent … says, this is the worst time for American writing in general, that anyone has ever seen. One of the ‘Serious Young Writers’ showed me a rejection letter from a major publisher that said, ‘Your book is much too well-written for us to publish.’ Those were the words! Literary publishing has changed entirely in the last 25 years.”

“When I talk to people with MFAs who are now working as editors for literary publishers, they say, ‘What we learned in college is a kind of writing that our current bosses do not want to let in the door.’ They want nothing to do with ‘good writing.’ These are places like Random House; Harcourt Brace; Knopf; and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who are the epitomes of literary publishing in this country, yet they’re willing to say, ‘I’m sorry. That’s not what we’re interested in anymore. We have a couple of slots a year for novels like that.’

“This is not a healthy situation for writing in general. It’s not healthy for science fiction, not healthy for anyone. I think we have five publishers left in New York, and 25 years ago there were 79! So when we’re talking about ‘commercial’ versus ‘art’ publishing, we’re using a leftover vocabulary. We’re still looking at the world through 1955-colored glasses.”

Read more excerpts from the interview here. Full interview in the March 2010 issue.

the book as fortress

cover of FEED by m.t. anderson

ereaders already are, or will soon enough become, visually engaging; they are in many ways already more convenient than their analog counterparts — from their hypertexuality to their capacity for instant distribution. however — other than the more apparent rebuttals (worse reading resolutions, less hardiness in bathtubs and backpacks, culture placed on permanent electronic life support), i think the less obvious, more subtle rejoinder is unfortunately the important one. as maryanne wolf argues below, we’re not directly wired to be readers. our instincts to follow distractions and follow titillating, quick bits of visual information (e.g. those involved in stalking that saber-toothed dinner) can overcome (perhaps more often in developing brains) our capacity for deep contemplation (e.g. our ability to consider: some day i too will cease to exist like this saber-toothed dinner i’m gnawing on and so i wonder what this means about the value of my own life and also if this would taste better with ketchup).

what the book does then is protect us from the flashing baubles and shiny lights of the beautiful internet vaudeville: that latest email, “friend” request, tweet, jezebel/craigslist/nytimes update… dwelling in the carnival for so long, we tend to forget that there’s another option possible: meadows free of noise.

or if the pastoral gags you: then the book as fortress, a portable monastery keeping aflame the capacity for contemplation in our current digital dark age:

Beyond Decoding Words at: http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/does-the-brain-like-e-books/

 

…In brief, this brain learns to access and integrate within 300 milliseconds a vast array of visual, semantic, sound (or phonological), and conceptual processes, which allows us to decode and begin to comprehend a word. At that point, for most of us our circuit is automatic enough to allocate an additional precious 100 to 200 milliseconds to an even more sophisticated set of comprehension processes that allow us to connect the decoded words to inference, analogical reasoning, critical analysis, contextual knowledge, and finally, the apex of reading: our own thoughts that go beyond the text.

This is what Proust called the heart of reading — when we go beyond the author’s wisdom and enter the beginning of our own.

I have no doubt that the new mediums will accomplish many of the goals we have for the reading brain, particularly the motivation to learn to decode, read and experience the knowledge that is available. As a cognitive neuroscientist, however, I believe we need rigorous research about whether the reading circuit of our youngest members will be short-circuited, figuratively and physiologically.

For my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now,perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).

The child’s imagination and children’s nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. The attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it.

the rest at : http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/does-the-brain-like-e-books/#maryanne

or, similarly Nicholas Carr here:

The pages of a book shield us from the distractions that bombard us during most of our waking hours. As an informational medium, the book focuses our attention, encouraging the kind of immersion in a story or an argument that promotes deep comprehension and deep learning…Our attention is scattered by all the distractions and interruptions that pour through our computers and digital networks. The result, a raft of psychological and neurological studies show, is cursory reading, weak comprehension and shallow learning.

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OMG

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A good interview with Carr here:

Nicholas Carr — author of last July’sAtlanticcover story, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” — believes the distracted nature of Web surfing is reducing our capacity for deep contemplation and reflection. He began developing his theory when he realized that, after years of online information gathering, he had trouble reading a book or a magazine. As he puts it, “I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. . . . I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”

full interview here:

Reaction to Carr’s article on the EDGE.org here and the reaction in general summarized here.

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and as related postscript…

“Are We Doomed?” read the headline to an article in New Scientist, a British magazine that last year took a long look at complexity. (Spoiler alert: maybe.) There is a lot of end-of-days talk when it comes to this subject. You will find a strain of it in the work of Joseph Tainter, an anthropologist at the University of Utah and the author of “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” In the book, Mr. Tainter examines three ancient civilizations, including the Roman Empire, and explains how complexity drove them to ruin, essentially by bankrupting them.

Does he look at the complexity of the problems facing the United States and see doom? Possibly.

“Complexity creeps up on you,” he said in an interview. “It grows in ways, each of which seems reasonable at the time. It seemed reasonable at the time that we went into Afghanistan. It’s the cumulative costs that makes a society insolvent. Everything the Roman emperors did was a reasonable response in the situation that they found themselves in. It was the cumulative impact that did them in.”

Mr. Tainter isn’t peddling the nostalgic charms of simplicity, which is wise because there aren’t a lot of people who would buy it. Unless the subject is TV remote controls, most Americans have a fondness for complexity, or at least for ideas and objects that are hard to understand. In part that is because we assume complicated products come from sharp, impressive minds, and in part it’s because we understand that complexity is a fancy word for progress.

Read the rest at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/weekinreview/02segal.html

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[since i’d like to put similar links in one place, i’m just going to add to this post… 1/15/12]

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from a NYTimes article called “The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain (which seems to be precis for her forthcoming Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking):

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

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Privacy also makes us productive. In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.

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another recent piece in the times, pico iyer’s essay, points the same direction:

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing — or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.

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also, internet, i give you this: a twenty minute “power-nap” soundtrack which i repurpose as general white noise generator: so when you need to work in a noisy place, use it. 

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also, if you need a break, this can be used in conjunction or alternatively with the above: the “desk sleeping bag” http://www.studio-kg.com/ostrich/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DR NOOKINDLE or HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB.

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on the radio yesterday i heard someone quote debussy:

At a time like ours, in which mechanical skill has attained unsuspected perfection, the most famous works may be heard as easily as one may drink a glass of beer… Should we not fear this domestication of sound, this magic that anyone can bring from a disc at his will. Will it not bring to waste the mysterious force of an art which one might have thought indestructible.

Written under the subtitle: ON REMOVING THE MYSTIQUE OF MUSIC

most days i so agree with claude’s pov, but ah well… my new favorite album only uses synth drums… que sera sera:


hey, who wants to get laid off from this condensery?!

the new cat and the old(er) cat just want to eat the other’s food. J in bed with the flu. morning coffee and puttering around, picking books off the shelf. and while dreading thinking about actually doing the accounting for the press, flip through a book and realize — both happy and sad — how many have done some time at that hallowed pity party:

SONNET WELCOME

To the 1981-82
Poetry season
At the Ear Inn
What a mess is everything
In this world we live in
François Marie Charles Fourier said in 1800
This planet should be sent to a lunatic asylum
But it’s not poetry’s fault
For being so concerned
With love beauty sex and ideas, money
All the preoccupations of the philosophers, thieves
& prostitutes, I myself make no image
When I say anything including saying
Let’s get on with our non-paying work as always

–Bernadette Mayer from Sonnets (Tender Buttons Press)

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oh but relatedly and un, here’s one for the wall-lookers, one i can’t seem to get out of my mind:

By Han Shan

Human beings live in dirt,
like bugs in a filthy bowl.
All day long crawling around and around,
never getting over the edge.

Even spiritual masters can’t make it,
wracking their brains for schemes and plans.
The months and the years, a running river:
Then there’s the day you wake up old.

–translated by J.P. Seaton

cats

i did it. i put up a photo of my cats on my blog.

Norman Lock interview and new website

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came across this interview with norman lock–who has a new book out called THE KING OF SWEDEN (ravenna press).

here’s lock on the simultaneously marginalized yet therefore critical status of small presses [which reminded me of this stephen-paul martin interview where is made the case that small presses need to be an alternative network to, and not simply a minor league version of, mainstream publishing].

interviewed by john olson in 2007 for CRANKY magazine:

Norman Lock: Many there were who deplored the condition of the American theatrical establishment in the 1960s for its hostility to originality of structure, voice, and language. Some simply went on deploring it while others created Off-Broadway and an authentic regional theater. In the ’70s, Off-Broadway was becoming nearly as ossified as the Broadway it had replaced. The result was an Off-Off-Broadway and studio theaters that welcomed the exceptional.

Liberality of mind and spirit is succeeded always by the reactionary, which yields, in turn, to an alternative. There is nothing surprising in this. I am happy that there are alternative presses, such as FC2, Ravenna Press, Triple Press, and Calamari Press, to seriously entertain the fiction that I wish to make, as well as independent magazines to publish our stories. When I think of Joyce and Beckett and Michaux, I am cheered and glad to be in their company — not that I have their talent, but I share their banishment to the margin… What constitutes a “sufficiency”? That very much depends on the quality of readers. A handmade book that Deron Bauman made for me in 2000 during his short-lived elimae books venture was read by less than 50 people, but among them were Gordon Lish, Diane Williams, Brian Evenson, Dawn Raffel, Faruk Ulay, Cooper Renner, Kathryn Rantala, and Guy Davenport. They form, for me, a sufficiency of readers.

To acknowledge such a limitation is to accept a reduced role for the writer. I do not believe that what I write can change the world or the people in it. I don’t believe that anything written by a contemporary literary artist has that power over a mass audience. There are some who believe they can restructure consciousness using language and narratives that defy convention. But their visionary writing will scarcely be read by the people most in need of a transformed consciousness. The only work that has power to engage a mass audience is sentimental (which is a lie) or pornographic (which is also a lie, though perhaps a more entertaining one). We can rue this. We can set down the causes to mainstream publishing or to a degeneration in popular taste and appreciation that have little to do with literacy. But we can and should seek out our own margin and make our literature there.

and on print versus digital publishing:

NL: This idea of art as a “making,” as a thing made—it speaks immediately to my disinclination toward online publication. I have a prejudice against it, which may be common for those of my generation; I do not trust it—do not entirely trust technology, for the obvious reasons. Electricity is evanescent; paper and ink give to the thing made permanence, which is, I am aware, illusory. And yet, perhaps not: We have old books, incunabula, writing set down on manuscripts, paper, parchment, stone tablets. It survives because of its autonomous life; it is not attached to an exterior life-support system, whose plug can be pulled. (I suspect one day it will.)

link to the whole interview available at lorman lock’s (new) website here.

trickle up economics

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reading the report of the frankfurt bookfair in the latest harper’s made me feel like crying, laughing and puking all at once — until i threw it aside with a fuck-this-noise dismissal. one day (maybe quite soon) even the global corporate publishing emperors will realize they’re in their skivvies… two days later, geeking out on a strangely inspiring article on netbooks in wired magazine, this idea was reinforced as was oddly re-affirmed my faith in the rise of small presses, when i read the following rule of thumb demonstrated in recent techworld history: “In THE INNOVATOR’S DILEMMA, Clayton Christensen famously argued that true breakthroughs almost always come from upstarts, since profitable firms rarely want to upend their business models.”

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[and a similar burn baby burn sentiment here from from joshua harmon.]

Celebrate the launch of Waste and Fog & Car

Come help us celebrate the launch of Waste and Fog & Car on

Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 7:30PM at Freebird Books

on 123 Columbia Street in Brooklyn. Directions here.

EWN’s e-panel with upstart publishers

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johannah and i participated on an e-panel with several other new presses–organized by the mightily productive dan wickett of DZANC books. participants included:

Kathleen M. Rooney and Abigail Beckel – Rose Metal Press
Aaron Burch and Elizabeth Ellen – Short Flight/Long Drive Books, a division of Hobart
Johannah Rodgers and Eugene Lim – Ellipsis Press
Aaron Petrovich and Alex Rose – Hotel St. George Press
Giancarlo Di Trapano – Tyrant Books
Victoria Blake – Underland Press
Peter Cole – Keyhole Books

i get quoted from it on the LATIMES bookblog:

Why found an independent press? And why do it now? Ellipsis Press’ Eugene Lim has an answer:

I’d like to think an indie movement is going on. Twelve years ago there was an issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, titled “The Future of Fiction,” and edited by none other than David Foster Wallace. In it, there’s a hilarious and dead-on piece by Dalkey head John O’Brien, which stated among other things that the “end of literary books in commercial publishing is a historical inevitability.” And so it has come to pass. The bigger houses will cease (have ceased!) to publish literary fiction. It is not profitable for them to market and produce a title that will sell to 5000 people (even if Rick Moody strong-arms a National Book Award for them). S’okay though. The old publishing joke goes, How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Answer: Start with a large one. And then you and your crony get to laugh bitterly together. But it’s the wrong question. A small and lively (and one hopes resurging) group of people care about the novel as art. And with the new methods of production and distribution, it’s getting easier for writers to connect with readers.

here’s the panel in its entirety: http://emergingwriters.typepad.com/emerging_writers_network/2008/09/e-panel-publish.html

a pause for station identification

skimming blogs, i came face to face with the following verities:

Starting a small publishing company takes an angel’s combination of idealism, passion, unreasonableness, innocence, naiveté and blind obedience to an inner voice telling you to go heart- and head-long into something utterly likely to fail. It would in fact be a kindness if the venture failed, because success requires so much time and intellectual and emotional energy that it squeezes to death every last healthy impulse you had to start with.

& elsewhere:

Back in 1979/80 I remember talking with the publisher of Alfred A. Knopf after CORRECTION by Thomas Bernhard had been published. This guy reported to me that to date they had sold a combined grand total of around a thousand copies of all three Bernhard books they had published, GARGOYLES, THE LIME WORKS AND CORRECTIONS.

which reminded me of this from i believe the last, or one of the last, published stories of gilbert sorrentino:

But this was all he knew how to do. He wasn’t much good for anything else, and what he did know how to do — even when, he smiled ruefully — even when he knew how to do it, proved nothing, changed nothing, and spoke to about as many people as one could fit into a small movie theater.

but all that simply reiterating what, in 1941, edward dahlberg wrote in CAN THESE BONES LIVE:

“There has been no more clinkered land for the artist to live in than America. All artists, everywhere, are pariahs. However, some counties gravel them the more, and so hinder their fates that their lives, like the three throats of Cerberus, are brutishly peeled…”

dahlberg was talking about melville.

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and… later that same day i come across this nice dose of schadenfreude for the trades–but it too is bitter tasting. E.g. Roth might’ve been optimistic:

“Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade.”

[but what that article doesn’t mention in its death-of-publishing prognosticating, is the renaissance of small presses, doing all the important work once done by the james laughlin’s and the barney rosset’s of yester-millennium. literary history of the 21st century probably will mention knopf and random house less, and maybe even FSG less, than that of the independents–both the more “established” like dalkey, fc2, green integer, and soft skull and the new and scrappy like calamari, dzanc, les figues, starcherone and clear cut.] [that is: publishing is dead; long live publishing; et cetera.]

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