The Daily Beast posted an article today that would have been tired and overstated if it weren’t so well-written and downright true. Author Anis Shavani expounded at length on what’s wrong with the publishing industry, breaking it down into five key issues that hinder the genuine creation of readable books.
“Publishers would become profitable in short order if entrenched agents and editors weren’t allowed to have veto power over innovative proposals, running their jaded, cynical eyes over every hint of freshness, trained in being subservient lapdogs to master strategists holding the keys to the riches,” Shavani argued in the post, pointing out what indie presses and self-published authors alike have experienced: the gatekeeper mentality. Rather than encourage new, fresh ideas, books are deemed acceptable once they fit the mold.
While placing the blame for the failures of publishing houses and major book chains, Shavani doesn’t leave authors completely blameless, pointing out their willingness to adhere to strict guidelines of acceptable content in order to reach publication, rather than taking chances with their works and building an audience later.
“Books would not be status objects then but would derive from readerly needs…It would mean that a writer reconceives himself as someone appealing to audiences that perhaps don’t fully exist yet but that might come into being with enough chutzpah.”
In a fairly bold statement about what digital publishing brings to books, Shavani essentially agrees that technology is not the death of books, as some early critics of e-reading and the broader instant access to self-publishing through ebooks have claimed. The technology isn’t the issue, but the content is the problem.
“If things don’t change, it’s not because the concepts, technology, or means aren’t there to make publishing exciting, profitable, and culturally worthwhile again; it’s because the overlords don’t want to change, even if it means they go down and take reading and writing with them.”
Shavani’s pull-no-punches article is admittedly a breath of fresh air, a timely accusation about an industry that doesn’t always adapt in a timely manner. As the intro pointed out, these are lessons that may have come too late for many of the major players in publishing and bookselling, but hopefully will serve as a warning to parties interested in continuing in book creation.
Anis Shavani is the author of several books, including Literature at the Global Crossroads and Plastic Realism: Neoliberal Discourse in the New American Novel. His full editorial on the state of publishing can be found HERE.