In a quandary may not be where you want to find a publisher is at. They are supposed to do things like make things happen for authors, set examples of credibility and scholarship, bring us truth and information about things we didn’t know, record history as it unfolds, and bring it into the present so we don’t forget it and make the same mistakes.
In an article from The New York Times Magazine March 13, 2011, Bill Keller points out with added design and pixel-like images of wires and computer parts, that things aren’t always what they seem when it comes to media. All The Aggregation That’s Fit To Aggregate or How much more of itself can the media consume? is a short sweet statement of hope, but only after viewing the evidence that may give many of us pause. How an online aggregator, or a kind of magazine that reprints and rehashes “content” becomes worth $315 million I assume leaves many of us baffled, but as Mr Keller suggests that “much as the creative minds of Wall Street found a way to divorce investing from the messiness of tangible assets, enabling clients to buy shadows of shadows, we in Media have transcended earthbound activities like reporting, writing or picture-taking and created an abstraction – a derivative – called Media in which we invest our attention and esteem.”
What Mr Keller speaks of is aggregation. He speaks to the heart of journalism and it’s craft and judgment being in the institutions, the many men and women working to bring us the truth we should still hope to value.
I am grateful to Mr Keller for this self-effacing article which began with his noting the mystery that he is considered the 50th most powerful person in the world by Forbes list makers (26th most influential in the country by Vanity Fair).
Aggregation, to bring together, to herd, to make whole, sounds like a worthwhile foundation for human activity. Think of concrete, that Roman invention sometimes aggregated with pieces of fallen sculpture. One size doesn’t fit all for all products. Whenever I see those screen clips or whatever they are called, they might have been called subliminal ads once, that say “TV to talk about” etc., I wonder and am moved to try to write something like a previous post about imagination. To me this is what underlies Mr Keller’s hope that journalism may be about to experience a renaissance, still, there is cynicism in his parting words as well.
So I too am in a quandary. Whether it is better to be honest about my ability as a writer or to forge onward and hope I don’t seem to be pretending. There is no pretending about the situation many book stores and publishers find themselves in these past few years and the question of how to get by. I was told by one small press that it could not exist if it were not a non-profit. The Teaching Company has been having a sale on The Great Courses. Prices are slashed from 249.00 to 39.99. A sale is in the forecast. Spring sale for poetry month. Even sales don’t work if your audience is not showing up. If promoting a fine and exciting poet doesn’t interest people in seeking out the book, what can you do, tell them they can have it for less. A book store in California I spoke to said people can’t buy. A store in New Hampshire is gathering used books to try to keep up some sales. Many stores have trouble financing the new stock they normally order.
Somebody is probably joking that maybe it’s my imagination. It takes time and aggregation. I took out a Facebook ad that gets two or three hundred impressions but only one click. I started to read the Longer Long Tail but was glad I flipped around and eventually found on the last page that for the average small press the long tail doesn’t promise you riches but if what you are doing has value, it promises more attention, reputation, and readership. Hail to the chief with the long tail of marketing.