Blog post

"He's got the words, but who's got the money?"

Sarah Shin13 December 2010

André Schiffrin speaks to Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, Paris Correspondent of the Irish Times about Words & Money and whether publishing companies continue to support serious writing with "the printed word under siege."

Mac Cormaic surveys Schiffrin's extraordinary career in publishing, noting him "well placed to survey the changing landscape":

Manhattan, which in the postwar years had 333 bookshops, now has barely 30. Publishing has changed so radically that in Germany four out of five books are now produced by a conglomerate. It no longer sounds foolish to predict that the era of the book as we know it—a codex of bound page—may itself be coming to an end.

But what's strange about these shifts is not only their speed but also how little serious debate they have stirred about the public good. Conglomeration in publishing, book scanning and the fast-changing media landscape are some of the major cultural questions of the day, yet often they seem to excite merely a dialogue of the deaf between earnest evangelists for a vaguely-defined digital future, hopeless fatalists and those who hope the fuss will pass. "We are in a transitional stage - more and more people seem to recognise this, but almost no one has offered a vision for the next stage, or a way to get there," writes the publisher André Schiffrin in his latest book, Words & Money. 

Exploring alternative models from all over the world, Schiffrin puts forward his vision for the future in which publishing, newspapers and other creative industries such as art-house cinema move on from "the era of traditional profit-centred ownership, which has failed to preserve the kind of diverse and independent culture we know we need":

The causes of each industry's problems may differ, he admits, but perhaps their remedies could come from the same sources: the state and the citizen ... Why not legislate, as some countries have done, to protect independent bookshops? Why not tax Google's profits or its advertising revenue to help the press gather the very news that attracts so many of its readers, just as TV ads are already taxed in France to support the film industry?

Visit the Irish Times to read the interview in full. 

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