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Publishing operations in the atomic age

For PAX publisher's 3 anniversary.



It is a known matter, that literature cannot feed her husband. You do not get very rich from writing books, which is probably not why you write them.

Yet, it turns out that literature – though it cannot feed its man, that is, its originator – is capable of feeding astonishingly many others. The vast masses of printed paper flowing over our already prejudiced world, all these masses, these megatons of paper, put almost incredible amounts of money into circulation. These amounts are set in motion by a single person having devoted between maybe 2 years or 4 months of their lives to writing a book. In the larger language communities, such as the English, is the circulation of one million items. not at all rare. It then brings a turnover of as many millions as the book costs in NOK. One does not have to think about what an international bestseller entails in turnover. Every year, in the international book and print business, billions and billions of our small kroner.

Most of it is spent on investment, investment in the well-dressed gentlemen arriving as air passengers to all the book fairs held around the world, staying at their lavish hotels and eating their excellent lunches at these hotels. The truth is that there is almost an incredible amount of money in literature, so many that it is completely incomprehensible that books cannot feed their "husband", their author. It can only feed publishers, consultants, critics, typographers, bookstores and bookstore aides, kiosk companies and colporteurs, if it could also feed its creator, it would be too wrong. Literature has something to do other than nourish writers, and there is actually a logical thread in it: all these airline tickets, old-age insurance, theater manager flights, actor's funds and chocolate boy revenues are started by individuals, maybe during some free night hours, some Sundays or a summer vacation; this lonely work thus puts millions and millions in motion, in circulation – but it does not create the amounts. A sack of potatoes is a financial benefit, not a book. Nevertheless, even in this potato-eating country, the gross turnover of printed matter is probably far greater than the amounts the potato sets in motion.

The enormous amount moved by the written word has meant that the publishing world – under the pressure of these huge sums – has become an economic industry of the same degree of hardness as the steel industry or the oil industry. Modern publishing and bookstores are one of the most hard-boiled industries in existence. This means that the industry in its own way becomes self-cleaning; it becomes self-censorship in that books that are poorly sold are admittedly printed, at least to a fairly high degree – but when they are printed, they will not be made into sales objects that can compete with the bestselling literature, which largely excels themselves by their innocence. The harmless, traditional and mindless literature will lead the market under this economic self-censorship. If a book is easily sold, the publisher will be obliged to invest many times as much money in this easily sold book: The system thus entails a perversion of the whole process: He who has, he shall be given – and from he who has nothing, from shall tages. That is the evangelical wisdom surrounding the bookstore today.

The tough, hard-boiled in this economic world means a destruction of perhaps the most central meaning and goal of literature: to awaken people to independent and independent thinking. Only the pre-agreed is easy to sell.

If now – I say if! – the terrible thing should happen, that a publisher has an idea, that he wants to run his publishing house to spread thoughts, ideas, insights – in short: something that spiritually has a meaning, then he will in the bookstore come face to face with a economic brutality that is only unparalleled in the world of oil and steel. If he does not succeed in this struggle, which is characteristic of late capitalism, then he – as well as all his ideas and thoughts – will be utterly doomed to silence. Ie that the publisher who wants something, the good publisher, gets into the author's situation: He must live – as a publisher, of something else. Or: He can be so adventurous that he manages to sell his ideal books.

How in the world he will manage it will be his own business. But it seems that the new, reader-friendly book type, pocket book, the cheap book, can serve to spread ideas, thoughts and new insights. You can reach an audience by them, exactly the audience you want. One can get in touch with the non-able generation, the generation that is able to absorb new thoughts. The generation that will be responsible for the next four to five decades.

The cheap book, the cheap theater ticket, is our only hope. But for the authors, it is a tragic hope, in that the cheap book – which is not state-subsidized – will exterminate the authorship financially. What should the publisher do now? Should he honk with the wolves, or should he go bankrupt? In the latter case, he will not publish more books, neither good nor bad. We know the Eastern European alternative: Cheap books and cheap theater tickets have created readers and theater-goers – but the price is too high: One is subjected to state moral and political censorship. We do not want that either. This our best of all worlds is the world of compromise; to talk to Brecht: It is better to come with dirty hands, than with empty hands.

avatar photos
Jens Bjørneboe
Author. Wrote in Ny Tids predecessor Orientering.

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