The literary business

For The New Republic, Malcolm Cowley wrote about 1920’s publishing and the rise of book clubs and chain stores in a 1929 article entitled “The Literary Business.” Cowley wondered if the entry of businessmen into publishing gave “literature itself a sort of dignity that it lacked … in the days of Chatterton and Keats.” He said that the

new tendencies in publishing are neither wholly admirable nor entirely successful. But they have a certain redeeming vitality. Thanks partly to them, publishing is no longer a corpse floating in the backwaters of American business. It has become part of the main current; it is treated with respect; its scandals are discussed on the front page. Its principal difficulty, however, is still to be solved. This difficulty is lack of efficiency–as revealed, first, in the number of printed books that never find a buyer, and, secondly, in the high price of those that do.

In the intervening years, book prices have dropped and publishing has become an entrenched, old-economy business. Have these developments fostered, or hindered, the vitality of literature? Your thoughts are welcome. If you post about it, please let me know. (Thanks to Xian for the link.)


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