Just so people know, I agree with Paul Mackintosh, my talented associate editor, on the value of small presses.
He writes of a $2,825 prize, “a broadside against mainstream publishing,” as the man behind it says. If the contest can help keep a writer and a publisher in business, then wonderful. Few would disagree that the minnows of publishing as a rule can be more adventurous than the whales (sorry about the 2014 video—as a conservation-minded soul, I can’t resist).
At the same time, I see room for publishers of all sizes. Can small presses pay the tens of thousands of dollars that a massively researched nonfiction book may require? Or as easily wage a major legal fight with government censors or litigation-keen subjects of biographies?
Furthermore, what about authors who write brilliantly and even commercially, but who may lose out amid the clamor of the natural self-promoters if left to be their own marketers?
Granted, the big boys more than ever want writers to ballyhoo themselves. But just the association of a good book with a well-known imprint can help it get into bookstores and receive far more publicity than otherwise. Like it or not—I’m not happy about this—Big Media will relate better to Big Publishing. And, yes, bookstores still count, especially for literary works.
Simply put, I’d like to see publishers of all sizes thrive, from Random House (one of whose divisions has published me) to the DIY kind. I disagree with the Big Five’s current practices such as routine inclusion of DRM, not to mention overpricing of e-books. Far better to expand unit sales through massive literacy campaigns, related media efforts and other partnerships with schools and libraries (ideally with assistance from a national digital library endowment). But such sentiments are different from thinking, “Big automatically equals bad.” As with librarians and publishers, I want to see more effort to devoted to pie-growing vs. pie-slicing. Public library spending in the U.S. is just $4 or so per year per capita. And meanwhile the typical American household is spending only about $100 a year on books and other reading material (excluding textbooks) compared to thousands for other kinds of entertainment.
OK, Paul—carry on. No company line here. And meanwhile, the invitation is out to Big Five defenders to speak up.