After a summer of searching, I wrangled myself an interview with a small publishing house. They did things differently. An author would come to them and the company would act as literary agent, publisher and PR, giving unestablished writers the chance to compete with the big boys.
The company’s clients weren’t squaring up with celebrated authors though, but celebrities on a flight of fancy. I remember the anecdote she used to explain the company’s ethos. A long time children’s author had just been dropped by her publisher to make way for Frank Lampard, who was in the stages of drafting Frankie’s Magic Football. She had come to them in a desperate effort to keep her career alive.
When parents are leveraging their child’s mental development against their love of celebrity footballers, you can see why the financially successful publishers were chasing A-listers over actual authors.
Print publishing is struggling. Not only are there no jobs for someone as brilliant, cool and handsome as me, but literary talent is being rejected in favour of slam-dunk cash-rakers. The internet has eaten old media, so publishing is being kept alive on a support system of celebrity biography and Ottolenghi cookbooks.
The cover of Kim's book. OMG
The most telling example of this is Selfish, a new book that will feature a collection of Kim Kardashian’s selfies. It will be published by Rizzoli, an eminent company best known for its beautiful art books. You know, the sort that line coffee tables at your rich friend's house, which have been hurriedly wiped clean after you placed your tea cup on them, you povvo savage.
Rizzoli’s editorial list reads like an encyclopedia of art history. If you want to see how many icons dot their website you can check it out for yourself. Now, Kim K is joining the ranks of Ansel Adams and Diane Von Furstenberg on the company’s Photography list.
While it would be easy to label this a tragedy, an indictment of our vacuous, celebrity obsessed culture writ large in 300 pages of full-bleed selfies, that’s not my issue.
The problem with Selfish is this: Little of it is original. The photos that comprise the book are largely collated from Kim’s social media accounts. Rizzoli, like Gawker, Buzzfeed and even Don’t Panic (lol it happens!) is just aggregating content and ‘curating’ it into a listicle, albeit one with a hardcover. They have the resources to produce a book from manuscript to production, but they're acting like a fashion blogger hamstrung by pageviews and ad revenue.
When I went for that interview, I learned that publishing was relying on celebrity to compete with the internet. A few years down the line, it seems that print publishing has gone that one step further. It’s relying on the internet itself, filling covers with content that already has a track record of generating web traffic, ‘Likes’ and shares. Anything that hasn’t passed the litmus test of scalable content is just too great a risk.
Now we need to see if people are willing to pay for something they’ve already seen.
Would you pay for Don’t Panic if you could hold it in your hands? Let us know by writing a letter on a piece of parchment with a quill, and having it sent to us by carrier pigeon.