(This article was first published on zacharybonelli.com on December 10, 2014. It has been revised with only minor editorial changes.)
“Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”
Ursula K Le Guin
Le Guin’s speech is incredible, hence the embedded video above. I highly recommend watching the entire thing, which runs only six minutes long (or you can read the full transcript). Eloquent and succinct, Le Guin describes the challenges facing literature today. The above quote summarizes exactly my goals in founding Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. I wanted responsible publishing to come first.
I thought that my only major hurdle would be convincing the other professionals in my network of this view. However, over time, it has also become clear that profit-for-profit’s-sake has become a self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating system in our society. The emergence of a generation that values “literary” works solely on their ability to titillate reinforces the consumer machine from the other side. It’s not just about convincing bookstores to carry more diverse titles, or showing distributors that independents have something valuable to contribute. No, in our consumer society, people must be willing to buy it. And when those people have been trained their entire lives to prefer dopamine hits to introspection and narrative texture, there’s no hope for a literary experience in the market. It will inevitably be evaluated as a “product,” and a product that does not titillate, whatever its other value, will be labeled a failure.
Any for-profit corporation (well, one started in my country, anyway) is pretty much conjoined to profit. Profit limits anything and everything a corporation can achieve.
So, how do we fix this problem? And I don’t mean for one individual publisher. How do we fix this problem on a societal scale? Another great quote from Le Guin: “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” The manifestation of consumerism that pervades modern society is not absolute, though many seem to believe it is.
Despite this unfortunate state of affairs, I remain optimistic. Progress might be slow, but good people who want to make the world a better place still can. For my part, I’ll be taking a close look at the structure of non-profit corporations in the coming months.
Le Guin has always been a hero of mine. She states that she would hate “to watch American literature get sold down the river.” For whatever it’s worth, I’m doing my best, with my small sphere of influence, with my meager voice, to resist the oft inevitable-seeming wave.