In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Foreword: The Publishers' Complaint In thelastissue ofTMR, Iwrotebriefly aboutthepublishing industry's often repeated claim that they don't really know much about titerary buyers—who they are, where they are, why theybuybooks—and about the fact that from this self-imposed cloud of unknowing they aim too many books for the lowest common denominator. Since then, several readers have e-maUed or talked with me and asked me to elaborate. Literature has always had a shaky reputation among publishers. When a vigorous market began to develop in England in the late seventeenth century, publishers put out mostly rough-and-ready writing intended for entertainment. Judging by surviving examples, virtually all of this writing was ephemeral and, ifnot for the interests oflinguists and literary archaeologists, just as well lost. Much of it consisted of execution broadsheets and pamphlets—brief, hastily written descriptions ofcriminals, their crimes, trials and executions, often in doggerel verse that could be "cry'd" aloud to illiterate audiences. Because of the demand, they didn't have to be cleverly written to earn a few shillings for their sellers. Well into the nineteenth century such stuff was still being hawked in the street and recited at gatherings. Consider, for instance, that foul example of womankind, Mrs. Winsor of Exeter, convicted "for the barbarous murder of Mary Jane Harris's child" In 1866. Those children belong to some poor girl That had been lead astray Mrs. Winsor would take them to nurse As long as they would pay. She would murder them—yes, strangle them For this paltry gain, By putting them between beds Or pressing the jugular vein. According to "The Exeter Working Papers In British Book Trade History," this ditty, illustrated by a crude woodcut, goes on to describe Mrs. Winsor's struggle to the death on the gallows. While it may have provided diversion for its audience, it didn't quite get the facts right: the printer was so ready to capitalize on Mrs. Winsor's execution that he published it before she received a stay of execution and banishment to penal servitude. Today's market for crime entertainmentisjustashealthy; ifanything, it has grown Ui percentage terms. Among fiction titles, crime writing is nowreputed tobeabouta third ofaU thatispublished.Televisiondrama is dominated by programs concerning the evil deeds of criminals and their arrests and trials, most of which are about as realistic as the crime verse of 1800. Law and Order's reassuringly stylized scenes, separated by episode-marking "ting-chunk" sounds, plod toward the inevitable triumph ofjustice, as do newer programs starring pathologists m tight dresses who dissect feelingly while their trusty geek sidekicks clatter away on computers and Ui a single dramatic beat discover the average iodine content of Lake Oomchowa, near Nairobi, during the 1945 rainy season. It makes you wonder ifwe haven't somehow been marching Ui place since Mrs. Winsor was pressing on those jugular veins. Despite the computer revolution, despite advances Ui automation and printing that make their work far less laborious than it was only a few years ago, despite the abitity to sell books on the Internet, pubUshers today have become complaining and defensive. ImpUcit Ui their attitudes is a tangled skein of rationalizing, lost ideals and concerns over the real, current pressures Ui their industry. Writers hear the publisher's complaint often enough that sooner or later itbecomes the bleak "truth" of the business: Barnes and Noble and other chains are squeezing publishers on one side, while their large media corporate owners are squeezing them on the other; media owners are sofocused on the bottom line that theyget rid ofeditors or whole imprints operating below their concept ofgood margins, which have become unreasonably high; only genrefiction can be counted on to make those margins; stores don't order titles by authors with weak sales oftheir last book; all authors who sell "in the middle" are "marked" by chain computer systems and don't get bought___ Relying on genre writing to mitigate the tight profit margins of publishing maybe as old as the business, but the publishers' complaint does suggest some dramatic changes over the last two hundred-odd years. In 1775, there were over 150 pubUshers m London's Strand...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 5-10
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.