In recent weeks, as smoke from mass funeral pyres rose across India, Penguin Random House India cranked up the publicity machinery for their most famous ‘author’, Narendra Modi. The cruelty and callousness of powerful men have been at the centre of many spirited recent debates within publishing houses across Europe and America.
Last summer’s social media campaign #PublishingPaidMe was a display of solidarity of sorts, in which writers revealed careers’ worth of book advances in a bid to spotlight racial disparities in author pay. The collective effort from which the campaign emerged ranged in its concerns from the proportional commissioning of Black writers to the proportional hiring and retaining of editors of colour. By the end of 2020, most analyses of the year’s reckoning with racial injustice in the publishing industry were sensitive to the importance of ‘structural change’ as the only means of redressing its evident whiteness. None that I read, however, focused on the ways in which racial, gender or other forms of injustice are connected with publishing’s structural organisation of labour, in particular the distinctions drawn between different kinds of editor. The work of the copy editor, for instance, is today not only restricted to the task of ‘cleaning up’ texts that may or may not have been ‘substantively’ edited beforehand, but also largely outsourced to underpaid freelance workers who miss out on the employment rights and benefits enjoyed by their in-house counterparts.
Established by the Polish government-in-exile in 1942, London’s Polish Library has been housed at the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in Hammersmith since 1974. Its holdings include a substantial collection of samizdat.
Last week, Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publisher, admitted it had blocked online access in China to 315 articles from China Quarterly, at the request of Chinese censors. The decision was taken without consulting the journal’s editor, Tim Pringle, who wrote an open letter expressing ‘deep concern and disappointment’ at the decision. The blocked articles are concerned with such politically sensitive subjects as the Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjiang and the Tiananmen Square protests. The demand to remove them came from China’s General Administration of Press and Publications, which threatened to block the entire China Quarterly website if they weren’t.
I have spent 15 years or so looking for a new agent. I had one once, but he died. I am being slightly economical with the truth when I say that. I shall tell the whole story. I have spent most of my time writing since 1978. This has only ever been subsidised by part-time work. Writing is much more than a hobby or interest in my case. While my first love is poetry, I also write novels, travel books and journalism. In the early 1980s I began to get more and more work published in magazines (including the London Review of Books, who once put my photo on the cover), anthologies and collections brought out by small publishers. My breakthrough came with the publication of Sky Ray Lolly by Chatto and Windus in 1986.
The Turkish publishing house İletişim (the name means 'communication') celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1983 by Murat Belge, who had taught English literature at Istanbul University until he was forced out after the 1980 coup because of his socialist views. İletişim’s first publishing venture was the quarterly magazine Yeni Gündem (‘The New Agenda’), which reached out to people whose voices had been silenced, and campaigned for a return to democracy and parliamentary politics. It ran interviews with politicians whose parties had been shut down as well as with writers and artists who dared criticise the generals.
What is the point of academic journals? The main one, surely, is to disseminate new findings and ideas, but this doesn’t go far in explaining the current publications set-up. Journal articles loom large in government monitoring exercises like the Research Excellence Framework, a Standard & Poor’s-type academic credit-rating. REF figures shape departments’ public research funding and individual researchers’ career prospects.
But the ghost of G.E. Moore haunts the exercise: quality can’t be boiled down to component merits that are then tick-boxed into a ‘metric’.
When Alan Sokal tricked Social Text into publishing a nonsensical parody of postmodernist criticism, he thought the journal’s failure to spot that the article was a hoax revealed a shocking lack of intellectual rigour. John Sturrock, writing about it in the LRB, noted that Social Text exists in a different realm of discourse from Nature and that Sokal’s contribution, for all its faults, was a ‘jauntily expressed’ piece of ‘extreme provocation’, and as Sokal knew, the kind of thing that Social Text existed to promote. Well yes, but, as legions of letter writers responded, don’t things you publish sort of have to make sense? Last month That’s Mathematics! reported another landmark event in the history of academic publishing.
In the bad old days, neoliberals bemoaned state meddling in the economy with a mobile army of mixed metaphors. Public corporations like the state-owned car giant British Leyland were ‘lame ducks’ that would ‘go to the wall’ were they not ‘featherbedded’ and ‘bloated’ by public subsidy. In the 1980s privatisation bonanza, state assets were stripped and sold back to the public at a discount, on the plea of serving the consumer, rather than producer interests. Now, fuddled by talk of ‘stakeholding’, we have got to the point where public policy defers to private producers instead. David Willetts’s open access policy on publishing research offers a case in point.
In the age of Bradley Manning and girls in Vegas with cameraphones, it seems quaint that France should be getting its political gossip from the literary invention of 1641, the roman à clef. Le Monarque, son fils, son fief: Hauts-de-Seine – chronique d'un règlement des comptes by Marie-Célie Guillaume has stayed on the non-fiction (nobody's fooled) bestseller lists since it was published earlier in the summer and has sold thirty thousand copies in France. Not content with having caught Sarkozy leering at the Israeli model Bar Rafaeli, complaining to Obama about Netanyahu, getting pissed with Putin, stealing a pen from Romania's president and calling a group of journalists his 'amis pédophiles', France wants to read about their ex-president accepting blowjobs for subsidies, stabbing political allies in the back and giving his son one of the most powerful positions in his old fiefdom.
In Greek, istos means web; in Turkey it is the name of a new publishing house which is putting out books in Greek for the first time in half a century. There’s a long tradition of Greek publishing in Istanbul – one of the first presses in the Ottoman Empire belonged to the patriarchate in the 17th century – and the industry more or less flourished until 1964, when commercial activity by Greeks was prohibited and most of Istanbul's Greek community was forced to leave. The city’s current Greek population is thought to be around 3000.
Two years ago, Hachette, one of the world’s largest publishers, whose books include Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, insisted that Amazon sell its ebooks under an ‘agency’ agreement. This meant that Hachette, rather than Amazon, would be allowed to determine the price of its books. Amazon didn’t like the idea and, for several days, took Hachette books off its site.
In 1936 James Joyce wrote a letter to his grandson: My dear Stevie, I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency. The letter included his story ‘The Cat and the Devil’, a short fairytale with echoes of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and some delightful footnotes. ‘Stevie’ was Stephen James Joyce, who grew up to become the scourge of academic Joyceans as the fearsome executor of the Joyce estate. Academics, he once told the New Yorker’s D.T. Max, are like ‘rats and lice – they should be exterminated!’
On 23 November, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, admitted that more than 13,000 Kurds had been killed by the Turkish military in Dersim in the 1930s. Apologising for the massacre, he called it ‘the most tragic event in our recent history’. Liberals and leftists welcomed the apology, which appears to promise a more open discussion of the Turkish state's past atrocities. Ragıp Zarakolu, the 63-year-old head of the Belge Publishing House, was behind bars when he heard the news.
Everyone breathe easy: Andrew Wylie and Random House are friends again. As the headline in the Bookseller would have it, the publisher has won the battle: the literary agent has agreed not to publish electronic versions of Random House titles under his own imprint, Odyssey Editions (a name perhaps implicitly casting Random House and the other big publishers as Polyphemus and the Cyclopes). In return, however,
What to make of last week's move by the agent Andrew Wylie to cut out the middle men – not the old middle men, literary agents, but the new middle men, publishers – and publish e-books himself as Odyssey Editions ('wily Odysseus', geddit?), sold exclusively through Amazon?
It recently dawned on me that the volumes of collected poems popular these days in trade publishing are often a literary auto-da-fe. Are there a dozen people who have read The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara or The Collected Poems of Allen Ginsberg from cover to cover? On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Lunch Poems and Howl, first and still published by San Francisco’s City Lights Books, have been prized and pored over by throngs of happy readers for decades.
'Fanfares, ticker-tape parades and pompom-wielding cheerleaders failed to greet the news that the UK economy grew by 0.1 per cent in the quarter-year to December,' John Lanchester wrote in the last issue of the LRB. But in some parts of the publishing industry, premature celebration seems to be underway.