Because the book upset Dan Clark so much, I’m now reading Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin R. Barber.
Everything is worse than I ever thought.
In this post (there might be others), I just want to focus on the corruption of artistry in the written word:
Not even an industry as substantive and serious as publishing is immune. Some observers suggest that prudent best-selling authors in the mass market ought no longer to think of themselves as producing books; rather, books produce mass market best-selling authors. It is the authors who are the new brands, whether they write fiction, nonfiction, or faction. Stephen King or Bob Woodward or Tom Clancy or Danielle Steel or Ann Coulter sell themselves first, and their books or book titles second. Things are not so different in France, with pop-cultural authors turning out a stream of books and memoirs and essays in which their brand names and Vogue magazine photos are what move the product.
Celebrity branding trickles down and can compel less popular authors to think about their careers in antiliterary ways. In a 2005 Authors Guild symposium on “Platforms and Publicity in a Packed Marketplace” (the title alone tells the story), author E. Jean Carroll, already better known for her column in Elle magazine than her books, gushed not about fellow author George Carlin’s books but about his book tour (it “was great”) and his appearances (they “were great”), concluding that “the day is coming when the book will not be the platform. The book is starting to be ancillary to the platform.” As with the weather on news television, the book is beside the point. Speaking with casual spontaneity from the authoritative podium of the Authors Guild, Carroll sums up the spirit of the age of brands: “The book is like, eh, it’s out of print. Frrpp [sic]. Everybody wants to be on the websites and they want to get on the cable TV, they want to get on the radio, they want to get on Sirius [the satellite radio network]. The book is on the outside now. It used to be on the inside, everything swam around that, now the book is on the outside.” The product’s on the outside, the book producer and the producer’s brand are on the inside.
Yeah. This has been a Big Thing in book publishing for quite some time.
This is what happens when you let marketeers and financiers and lawyers take charge of things.
They want to put you in a box they can sell to people. You become a McDonald’s burger. Your name is known for X and every goddammed book has to deliver X.
This is how we wind up with grave-robbery that has dead writer’s names on “new” books long after they’ve been consumed — pun intended — by the worms.
It’s also the kind of thinking that lets a vandal such as James Patterson produce “books” that are nothing more than products, while he has less and less involvement in the actual — if there ever was any — writing.
If you’ve been swept up in this “branding” bullshit, you need to step back and think what it really means for your future.
Don’t let yourself be eaten by The Machine.