By Darren E Laws
Does the level of literacy drop in a recession? Faced with increasing pressure to maintain profits, are publishers abandoning taking risks with new authors and plumping for the relatively safe and cosy celebrity lit novel or autobiography. A look along the books shelves would lead you to determine that is indeed what is happening, but the facts are that mainstream publishing has been venturing down this road for years; long before the recession reared its ugly head. To some degree, who blames them? They are after all businesses and need to run at a profit to remain in operation and if that means rows of ghost written fodder vomited out of the orifice of publishing for the general consumption of the iliterati, then who cares. Well, you should.
I am all for the democratisation of the Internet and the far reaching and positive impact it is having on publishing, but this current wave of literary gastro-enteritis pooping out of the backside of some of our leading publishers has little to do with broadening choice. Novels by 'D'-list 'celebrities' currently fill remainder book stores to the gunnels. Confirming that this is not what the public wants no matter how much the media tell us it is. Well, of course they would do that because, it invariably, they would argue, leads to increased sales. If that were true celebrity magazines and newspapers would not be having the appalling time they are with their own circulation figures. The days of hype are over and we face a new austerity the like of which we have not faced for many a generation. It may be argued that in these days of turmoil we need a ray of harmless light to shine upon the dreary outlook and yes of course we do.
So what is the answer – faced with a future of increasing inanity and the further 'dumbing down' of our population hardly begins to prepare us for life after recession or even how to cope during it. The irony of course is that publishing like no other form of art or entertainment is so pretentious and yet it is happy to perform fellatio on any passing trend. Could you imagine a mega rock group sending their new material to their label and waiting for some University grad to edit and rewrite the material before it is unleashed on the world, or an artist who has just finished a painting that took anywhere between two to five years to paint that was then reviewed by someone with no discernable interest in being an artist and repainted in sections until it was 'just right'. It just wouldn't happen. Pretentious doesn't even begin to describe an industry so beset and riddled with class anxiety and fear. But all of those crushingly conceited elements of the industry trip over themselves to publish the latest ghost written twaddle from the celebrity of the moment. There is no point in naming names because these people are disposable. The publishing industry picks them up sucks them dry (not that there is much sustenance in the first place) and spits them out or watches gleefully as they self-implode temporarily sending sales rocketing.
I dare say a ghost writer (and the irony of this is certainly not lost) has already been employed by Jade Goody's publisher to write the closing chapter on her short and ultimately very sad life. Do people want to read it? They do because the media tells them. Even if the event is covered step by painful step on (again the irony is not lost) 'Living TV'. I have no beef with the celebrity whoever they are; please do take the publisher for every single penny you can get, because one day this bubble – much like the banking industry – will burst.
On a personal note I wish Miss Goody peace and understand her reasons for doing what she is doing and there is a very positive message from Jade's personal tragedy in that many young women are having cervical smears. Please Miss Goody, take your publisher for every cent you can get and then some.
As per usual the hypocrisy of the class driven world of publishing which doesn't mingle easily with the great unwashed is prepared to exploit the masses for financial gain and treat them like idiots in the process. Welcome to the iliterati.
So where does this leave publishing in the 21st century? Somewhere up its own arse but like a contortionist with its head buried in the sand. No change from the 20th century then.