Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pissed because they're dissed

Soon, but not today, I'll try to cook up the promised post regarding bookstores, Big Daddy Chain vs. Mom & Pop Indie. In the meantime, I want to add one thought to yesterday's comments about the retail chains' current price war on books and the resultant dismay among publishers and authors. The publishers' plaint is obvious. They're afraid of thinning profit margins. Any talk from them about the holy art object can be fairly disregarded. But what of the authors' reactions? The comments from Barbara Kingsolver and Stephen King about how lower book prices insult the authors? These I find not merely disingenuous but distasteful. I mean, really, are they arguing that the goodness, the cultural importance, the artistic contribution, the intellectual essence of their work is tied to the price? That the worth--not the economic value in terms of the market, but the essential artistic, cultural worth--of what they write is determined by how much it sells for? Really? How depressing, especially from Kingsolver, if in fact she said what she was quoted as saying. Now, I don't expect someone like her to share my vision of what the world ought to be like -- you know, the system in which everyone contributes according to her ability and gets according to her need, which need includes all the intangibles, food for the heart and mind as well as physical sustenance, the system in which production and distribution are based on fulfilling these human needs for all rather than providing riches for a few -- but I don't think you have to be a revolutionary socialist in order to be disappointed by this view that equates art's innate worth with its price tag. As a matter of fact I'd like to think that most "progressive" writers would wish their books, ideally, could be distributed for free. That, while most can't afford to give up the paltry pay they get from book sales, they'd agree that theoretically free books for all would be a good thing.

The issue of the artist's fair wage is a different matter altogether. But we, they, are not talking about the thousands and thousands of writers, the vast majority, that is, who make more or less nothing from their books, a whole other issue and surely one worth considering at some point. With regard to this brouhaha over Target selling cheap books, the only bank accounts affected, as far as I can see, are the big publishers' and the bestselling authors. In any case, this, the authors' rightful return, is not what Kingsolver and King addressed in the quotes I saw. They're simply pissed because they consider themselves to be dissed by the price lowering.

I guess it's just one more example of how capitalism distorts the artistic endeavor.