The death/throes of publishing

Came across this article on a recent twist to the eBook issue on the Guardian website. Go, read, I’ll wait.

The thing that I found most interesting was the comments made afterwards. People who argue that “a(n e)book is only worth what someone will pay for it”. Hmm. I have to say I don’t agree. I know we’ve spoken before about the strife that poetry publishing is in, and the idea that poetry is one artform that can probably afford to take unconventional paths – being non-commercial can give you freedom that way. (Cue the chorus of “Me and Bobby McGee” …) Maybe if most people were generous and honourable that would work, but let’s face it: most people don’t want to part with any more money than they absolutely have to. I think the notion of ‘a fair price’ being a reflection of the effort required to create the item in question is not a bad starting point. (Incidentally, I did like the example of pirating as being equivalent to stealing a string of sausages from a butcher who charges too much. I have a very Hairy Mclary picture in my head.) Regardless, I’m still not sure that eBooks will genuinely replace paper books, although I’m beginning to find myself attracted to the idea of owning an iPad. (Ok, who am I kidding? I have a bad case of techno-lust.) ‘Book’ is not to paperback the same as single is to cassette tape, surely. Is it? Or is it? Hmm …

All of this chimed rather weirdly with something else that I encountered this morning. I was listening to Kim Hill interviewing writer and revolutionary socialist Tariq Ali, and talking about the state of capitalism. I’m not going to pretend to be especially politically informed, but the co-incodence of the Guardian article and Ali’s comments on the need for change in the way we treat each other and the world around us did feel like a very apt pairing. Add to that the way that the internet has radically altered notions of distance and personal relationships and access to information, and it really does seem pretty obvious that we’re living in a time of enormous potential change. Does anyone genuinely believe in the idea that the marketplace is a force of good if left alone? Changes in publishing have been at the forefront of social change in the past. Been the catalyst for it, in some cases. It would be fascinatingly ironic if the enthusiastic adoption of things like iPads and other eReaders brought about the collapse (or at least radical reorganisation) of western capitalism.

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