Wednesday, 10 January 2018
There’s the way things are usually done (books published, say, or art shows put on) and there are, somewhere down the line and certainly with less money, ‘alternative’ ways. Of course the norm itself is just one possible way of going about things, itself an alternative to many other ways that got biffed to the side, an alternative which survives for reasons more to do with power and habit than reason or common sense or any other kind of sense.
Publishing good books and showing good art do not require an office or gallery in a plush part of town and a very high sum in the overheads column. But to have the work reach lots of people – that’s the tricky bit, because the ways in which new work gets known about and made available are tied into the current norm and are resistant to change.
For books, the distribution system is simply mad; and despite the increasing public profile of small presses (their inclusion on prize shortlists, etc), the system is weighted against them. The abolition of the Net Book Agreement handed all the aces to the big players, who deal in high volume. Amazon’s discounting has forced the cover price of books up (as publishers seek to protect their own margins) and led to the closure of many independent bookshops. Most of the remaining independent bookshops order from one or both of the main wholesalers, and if a title is not in stock with Gardners or Bertrams a customer will usually be told that it’s not available. When I last checked, a bare handful of CBe titles were in stock at the wholesalers (and Gardners list many titles as ‘POS – Publisher out of stock’, which is simply untrue: the titles are in stock with the distributor, Central Books, which supplies the wholesalers). And even if booksellers do have titles on their shelves, they can choose to return them and get their money back.
Any norm is, by definition, not only conservative in itself but relies for its survival on the conservatism of those who accept it as the default way of doing things. Real change won’t happen except through politics. That’s what politics is for. In the meantime, consider not buying from Amazon (there are enough reasons, god knows). Consider, even, buying direct from a publisher’s website (the CBe one is here, but the others have them too). Books are written by single people at their desks, and are read individually too, in chairs or beds or on trains or buses or boats, and though between the writing and the reading there does have to be an arrangement, and involvement with money, it really needn’t stray far from the one-to-one.
Consider also going to an art show that is not ‘sponsored’ by a bank or oil company or auction house, and that may not even be in a public gallery. Year by year, there is an increasing number of exhibitions taking place in pop-up spaces or private homes or studios, most of them free to visit. One of them – open this coming weekend, and by appointment; and, yes, there is some small CBe involvement – is here.
Monday, 1 January 2018
A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post on this blog – here – to announce that CBe was going into semi-retirement. That’s an ambiguous phrase, and I have some sympathy with those who ask, with a touch of impatience, Make up your mind – are you stopping or aren’t you?
Some things – Trump, say, or the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald – I can say a definite no or yes to. Other things are not so binary. I like being able to bring new books into the world (it’s an extraordinary privilege) but not everything involved in the process: I don’t enjoy, for example, anything associated with the word marketing or applying for funding. CBe continues but at a low level, with a different rhythm: plotted as an electrocardiogram, it will look like I’m falling asleep for long periods, but with sudden peaks of excitement – the latter representing books that I simply cannot not publish.
For example: there will be, in March, Murmur, Will Eaves’s new novel. Or if not exactly ‘novel’, a book that at least will cause booksellers less headache than Will’s last book when they think about where to shelve it. There’s a page on the website for pre-orders. Go there, even click on the 'Add to cart' button if you feel inclined. All pre-ordered books will be sent out – probably in February – with a couple of free flappers. There will be events for the book at the London Buddhist Centre, Bookseller Crow Bookshop and elsewhere. Will Eaves’s previous CBe titles are The Absent Therapist (shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize) and The Inevitable Giftshop (shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award).
Many thanks for support during 2017, during which Lara Pawson’s This Is the Place to Be was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize, Will Eaves’s The Inevitable Giftshop was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and Diane Williams’s Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine was shortlisted for the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize. Jack Robinson’s An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B. is currently longlisted for the next Republic of Consciousness Prize.
On Friday, 19 January Tony White will be introducing a screening of the film Wetherby at the London Review Bookshop, and then will be chatting with me about the film. Click here for more details and to book tickets. I wrote a blog post about Wetherby here; Tony's blog post about the film, dating back to 2010, is here.
This time last year I was reading Robinson Crusoe and thinking I was setting up a sort of ‘project’ that would keep me ticking over for the whole year. But it was hard to clear a space in my head from the day-by-day awfulness of what is happening in this country and, impatiently, I published the book in June, to coincide with the General Election. Robinson is still, unfortunately, topical.