Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Intimate, unpredictable agents of delicious rebellion

Lawrence Osborn writes for Forbes.com on the impending “death” of publishing (supposedly, it’s been dying for the last 20 years). According to an editor, “Very little of the recent cutbacks and consolidation are the product of the economic meltdown. They are the result of several years of bad decisions.”

The decisions (according to the industry itself):

  • a failure to acquire the kind of franchise authors now topping the bestseller lists
  • a lack of editorial insight and supervision (resulting in longer, sloppier books that bore readers stupid)
  • extravagant author advances
  • agents all too happy to sacrifice the long-term interest of authors for short-term profit
  • incompetent management at the top
  • a lack of books that have commercial impact

Osborn questions (rightly) whether this blockbuster mentality can really sustain an industry which produces, as he puts it, “intimate, unpredictable agents of delicious rebellion.” His argument hovers above the oft-invoked disparagement of a vapid consumer culture, especially because this time, it’s true. Critics may lament our shortened attention spans, and new media competing for attention previously held by books. But if you’re like Osborn (and like me), you read both. His only fear is that publishing house cutbacks (rather than drilling deeper into strengths) will strangle the whole enterprise.

Something that Osborn doesn’t touch on, but that I suspect, is that as for a new generation with access to previously obscure information and communities, mass-market books just won’t do. I’m curious about what kinds of niche books will thrive in the near future.

Latest Comments

Have your say!