18 July 2013

Keep Your Hand Off of My Stack

Non Sequitur, 18 Jul 2013

Life continues to be annoyingly competent at filling up every waking moment... and nobody around here wants to share my nightmares.

  • From the publishing department of Everything Old Is New Again (specific reference: Derek and the Dominoes), moderately revisionist reviews of J.K. Rowling's recent pseudonymous novel have begun trickling in. What this demonstrates indirectly is that major review sources have now completely lost their way and become little more than adjunct publicity devices. This is not exactly late-breaking news itself, but you should ask yourself this question: Why review this book now for any reason except the publicity expectations, which are rather a self-fulfilling circularity themselves?
  • Conversely, one could focus on quality of content and production as a means of establishing, and maintaining, an audience. Not having read "Galbraith"'s book (see preceding link sausage), I'm not able to judge the substance of this apparent contrast — only its appearance. Nonetheless, it represents a clear choice with no wrong answer to publishing. On the one hand, gross profits are potentially much higher on the celebrity route... but then, so are gross risks, and complications, and reliance on actually hitting for six with some regularity. (After the annoyance of sport coverage of that useless exercise in futility knowns as baseball's "all-star" game completely submerging a meaningful US national-team football/soccer game, I'm even more disinclined to use a baseball metaphor than usual — so cricket it is!) On the other hand, the quality-of-content-and-production path depends upon the extraordinarily difficult task of maintaining it for the long term. The New Yorker, and Granta, and The Paris Review, and more other periodicals than I can count — not to mention any of the book imprints that have tried the same path — inevitably fail when they believe they've outgrown their horizons and try to compete in the celebrity-based world, if only because so few celebrities (even the well-meaning ones) cannot consistently maintain high quality in their works, as demonstrated by the frequent lipstick-on-a-pig fiction published in The New Yorker from about 1989 to about 2003; even among the true literati there, the work in that magazine was seldom up to their own ordinary "performances", let alone that appearing in some of the smaller magazines like TriQuarterly and The Yale Review (and, while it lasted, Salmagundi). The latter had their own echo-box problems, but that's a slightly different matter...
  • Meanwhile, over in that other realm of quality v. celebrity (centered on the opposite coast in the US), there are already analyses of "primetime Emmy snubs" making their way about. Frankly, I'm extremely pleased at most of them, particularly of a CBS series on Sundays that shall not be named because it reflects everything that H'wood doesn't know about law, people, life, and reality outside of SoCal... not to mention what a law office looks like. It's rather an interesting "ballot", to say the least; the interesting thing (leaving aside the comedy categories) is that it is extraordinarily apparent that this year, anyway, the acting awards are all founded on the writers giving the actors material good enough to interpret. That has frequently been prolematic at best in the last quarter of a century or so...
  • Neither audiovisual nor textual distribution is quite as broken as music distribution, though. The modern recorded-music industry is pretty much absolute proof that Marx was wrong to focus on the means of production. It's hard to imagine a more chaotic means of production than that of music, let alone recorded music! No, it's private (or even government) concentrated ownership of the means of distribution — not of production — that matters to everyone. And what that says about the e-book antitrust lawsuit bears some careful consideration... especially after recognizing that like record labels, publishers are also merely means of distribution (regardless of the need for editing of most manuscripts).
  • All of which, in a rather ironic way, comments backward on the cartoon at the top of this entry. Ultimately, creativity and innovation in general, and the arts specifically, are about a kind of individualismus that is not amenable to statistical or financial analysis as fungible widgets within a preset timeframe. That, however, is precisely how their success is judged and their infrastructure is created — or, more often, destroyed.