"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 13 July 2009

Can Anyone Save Publishers from Themselves?

Contemplating (above) the fresh honeysuckle in my Radnorshire garden I try to hold on to some sanity in a world where publishing seems intent on a course of wild self-destruction. In today's Independent a two-page spread with a silly heading: "Two Weeks to Save Britain's Book Trade" attempts to say what is wrong with the business [meaning: the big hitters like Coetzee will all be published in our equivalent of the French rentrée littéraire in September in a two week period hoping to stem the losses so far this year being incurred by publishers]. Conventional wisdom says that publishing always rides the recession but this time it isn't happening and sales have slumped. Publishers are sacking their staff, advances are crashing down and things, as this blog has been saying for some time, are looking very grim indeed. Even Richard and Judy seem to have retired from the fray. In this article, however, one ray of light shines out. Someone actually enunciates a simple but incontrovertible truth about how we got into the mess that is contemporary British publishing. Step forward Jonny Geller, managing director of the books division of the Curtis Brown literary agency who tells it like it is: "Publishing has become quite reactive. It is sales-led. We need publishers to start taking risks again." He is saying that publishers should become publishers again. Give that man a gong.


Anonymous said...

Nick, part of this stems actually from the "good" days of publishing, when publishers proceeded to stuff their chosen geese (M. Amis et al) with money and then watched as they produced a series of very rotten eggs. The mid-list was starved for years and has now practically expired. And the publishers, realising that their previous strategy of paying huge advances with little sign of any return, to "literary" writers has brought them to the edge of ruin, have now flipped and are desperately thrashing around for sure-fire 'commercial' properties.
The serious book has vanished from the bookshops - unless masquerading under some stupidly facetious title. Yet there remains a huge number of committed readers. I suppose, they can happily browse on the accumulated literary of the past - but where's the new stuff to come from? There are some brave independent publishers, but they can't pay enough to keep a writer in bread and marge.

Woe is me, and the rest of us,


William said...

I meant, of course, the 'accumulated literature of the past'