The current debate about publishing has centered on technology. Will the world of print go away as e-readers continue to gain ground? Yet, this article by Curtis White in Lapham’s Quarterly shows that this question only gets to part of the issue.
“When we speak of literature, we should not imagine that we are speaking of some stable and enduring Platonic entity. The history of literature has always been about its highly mutable institutions, whether bookstores, publishers, schools of criticism, or, for the last half century, the mass media. In other words, literature has always been about the struggle over who would have the social authority to determine what would count as literature.”
White looks at the broken book business model from many angles. Bookselling has become disconnected fom its public … “once the selection and manufacture of books became specialized, separating writers, from publishers, from retailers, and once the centralized manufacture of books required real capital, the chance that this new industry would ever challenge the reign of free market capitalism and its multiform ideologies was reduced to nothing. Publishers made profitable commodities and they kept the lid on ideas. Itâ€™s hard to say which of those two purposes was the more important. As my late friend Ronald Sukenick liked to say, â€œWhat can you expect from Simon and Shoestore?â€”