Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Alternative alternatives



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.

3 comments:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

Happy New Year! Roddy owes me a hundred quid. I thought that with his mate Bill Herbert on the panel, he would be an absolute shoo-in but maybe that was the problem. We've had guests and flu over Christmas and New Year which is why I haven't been commnenting.

Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish

P.S. Amazon have been an awful lot kinder to me than the British Poetry Establishment!

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Rocket Man said...

Matthew 17
[4] Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
[5] While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
[6] And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
[7] And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
[8] And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
[9] And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

Revelation 16
[19] And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
[20] And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

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