Skip to main content

About this book

This reader is the most comprehensive selection of key texts on twentieth and twenty-first century print culture yet compiled. Illuminating the networks and processes that have shaped reading, writing and publishing, the selected extracts also examine the effect of printed and digital texts on society. Featuring a general introduction to contemporary print culture and publishing studies, the volume includes 42 influential and innovative pieces of writing, arranged around themes such as authorship, women and print culture, colonial and postcolonial publishing and globalisation.

Offering a concise survey of critical work, this volume is an essential companion for students of Literature or Publishing with an interest in the history of the book.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Print Cultures: A Reader in Theory and Practice is the first anthology of critical writings to concentrate on book, publishing and digital cultures in the twentieth and twenty-first century. These selected texts provide a comprehensive introduction to this rapidly developing and dynamic subject, and represent the main theoretical approaches and models as well as key historical and thematic analyses. This is a collection of essential reading for students and researchers wanting to know how the subject has developed, where it is now and its future directions.
Caroline Davis

Publishing: Theory and Practice


2. The Trials of a Publisher

It has been said, by whom I don’t remember, that ‘Everyone knows about the trials of an author because, as writing is his profession, he takes care that his troubles shall not be hidden. But the publisher’s trials have usually to be borne in secret.’
Caroline Davis, Stanley Unwin

3. The Market of Symbolic Goods

The system of production and circulation of symbolic goods is defined as the system of objective relations among different institutions, functionally defined by their role in the division of labour of production, reproduction and diffusion of symbolic goods. The field of production per se owes its own structure to the opposition between the field of restricted production as a system producing cultural goods objectively destined for a public of producers of cultural goods, and the field of large-scale cultural production, specifically organized with a view to the production of cultural goods destined for non-producers of cultural goods, ‘the public at large’.
Caroline Davis, Pierre Bourdieu

4. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation

A literary work consists, entirely or essentially, of a text, defined (very minimally) as a more or less long sequence of verbal statements that are more or less endowed with significance. But this text is rarely presented in an unadorned state, unreinforced and unaccompanied by a certain number of verbal or other productions, such as an author’s name, a title, a preface, illustrations. And although we do not always know whether these productions are to be regarded as belonging to the text, in any case they surround it and extend it, precisely in order to present it, in the usual sense of this verb but also in the strongest sense: to make present, to ensure the text’s presence in the world, its ‘reception’ and consumption in the form (nowadays, at least) of a book. These accompanying productions, which vary in extent and appearance, constitute what I have called elsewhere the work’s paratext,1 in keeping with the sometimes ambiguous meaning of this prefix in French2 (I mentioned adjectives like ‘parafiscal’ [a ‘taxe parafiscale’ is a special levy] or ‘paramilitary’). For us, accordingly, the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public. More than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold,3 or – a word Borges used apropos of a preface – a ‘vestibule’ that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back. It is an ‘undefined zone’4 between the inside and the outside, a zone without any hard and fast boundary on either the inward side (turned toward the text) or the outward side (turned toward the world’s discourse about the text), an edge, or, as Philippe Lejeune put it, ‘a fringe of the printed text which in reality controls one’s whole reading of the text’.5 Indeed, this fringe, always the conveyor of a commentary that is authorial or more or less legitimated by the author, constitutes a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of a pragmatics and a strategy, of an influence on the public, an influence that – whether well or poorly understood and achieved – is at the service of a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it (more pertinent, of course, in the eyes of the author and his allies). To say that we will speak again of this influence is an understatement: all the rest of this book is about nothing else except its means, methods, and effects. To indicate what is at stake, we can ask one simple question as an example: limited to the text alone and without a guiding set of directions, how would we read Joyce’s Ulysses if it were not entitled Ulysses?
Caroline Davis, GÉrard Genette

5. Gatekeeping

The values which a society holds and the institutions it creates are not an accident. They reflect the conscious and unconscious choices made by people in power and positions of authority. The way of life – and the quality of life – is directly or indirectly determined by the decisions which are made within the circles of the powerful.
Caroline Davis, Lynne Spender

6. Merchants of Culture

The publishing chain is both a supply chain and a value chain. It is a supply chain in the sense that it provides a series of organizational links by means of which a specific product – the book – is gradually produced and transmitted via distributors and retailers to an end user who purchases it. Figure 6.1 offers a simple visual representation of the book supply chain. The basic steps in the book supply chain are as follows. The author creates the content and supplies it to the publisher; in trade publishing this process is typically mediated by the agent, who acts as a filter selecting material and directing it to appropriate publishers. The publisher buys a bundle of rights from the agent and then carries out a range of functions – reading, editing, etc. – before delivering the final text or file to the printer, who prints and binds the books and delivers them to the distributor, which may be owned by the publisher or may be a third party. The distributor warehouses the stock and fulfils orders from both retailers and wholesalers, who in turn sell books to or fulfil orders from others – individual consumers in the case of retailers, and retailers and other institutions (such as libraries) in the case of wholesalers. The publisher’s customers are not individual consumers or libraries but rather intermediary institutions in the supply chain – namely, the wholesalers and retailers. For most readers, the only point of contact they have with the book supply chain is when they walk into a bookstore to browse or buy a book, or when they browse the details of a book online, or when they check out a book from a library. For the most part they have no direct contact with publishers and know very little about them; their primary interest is in the book and the author, not in the publisher.
Caroline Davis, John B. Thompson

7. The Digital Context and Challenge

A sense that the written word is seeing the greatest transformation since Gutenberg is, despite becoming a cliché, not unwarranted. Not only are books and publishing experiencing the most profound transition since the dawn of the press but our entire communications paradigm is witnessing arguably the greatest change in history. Moreover we are still in the early phases of digital technology. Over the coming decades it will undoubtedly evolve in unexpected ways. To paraphrase Zhou Enlai on the French Revolution, even by the end of the present century it will be too soon to tell regarding the digital revolution. The impact has been felt across sectors and publishing is no exception. Such technologies beg the questions what is a book and what does publishing it mean?
Caroline Davis, Michael Bhaskar



8. Agents and the Field of Print Culture

Watt may not have invented the role of literary agent, but he certainly played a central part in defining and refining it. By the turn of the century, other agents had begun to challenge his supremacy – notably J.B. Pinker and Curtis Brown. But for almost twenty years, from the late 1870s through the late 1890s, Watt dominated, setting the standard against which his competitors and successors were measured. His activities altered how publishing businesses operated and how literature was produced. This, in turn, transformed the literary marketplace. His influence is both direct and subtle.
Caroline Davis, Mary Ann Gillies

9. Disembodied Images: Authors, Authorship and Celebrity

The notions of authorship formulated within the academy and outside it have radically diverged in recent years – while academic criticism has formulated theories about the death, disappearance or absence of the author, this figure still seems to be very much alive in non-academic culture. This chapter discusses literary celebrity in relation to some of these apparently conflicting notions of authorship, examining theoretical perspectives in relation to the actual effects of the literary marketplace and the way that authors themselves have responded to the phenomenon of celebrity. It begins by examining how the transformation of authors into media images connects with the efforts within academic literary criticism to question the figure of the author as the authoritative originator of texts and to view individualistic notions of authorship instead as culturally and historically determined. It then goes on to examine a number of texts in which authors have dealt with these issues, which tend to pivot similarly around questions of authorial intention and agency. If the main contention of anti-intentionalist textual criticism is that a text ‘is not the author’s (it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it)’,1 a similar case might be made for the way in which celebrity has impacted on the work and public personality of authors. The academy’s scepticism about the figure of the author thus has more similarities than might at first be apparent with celebrity’s appropriation of the authorial personality.
Caroline Davis, Joe Moran

10. ‘What is an Author?’ Contemporary Publishing Discourse and the Author Figure

On 20 May 1995 an enigmatic poster started appearing in London bus shelters, on the escalator of London underground stations and on the tube train itself. For four weeks Londoners – and those living in other large urban conurbations in Britain – were supposedly intrigued and tantalised by a turquoise poster with a single ‘i’ on it. The deconstruction of advertising semiotics has become a necessary quotidian proficiency in the conditions of late capitalism, interpolating the consumer into the construction of product appeal. Increasingly over previous decades advertisements have become not communicators of product information, but referents of allusion and intertextuality that presuppose a complex matrix of consumer subjectivities and identities. It is often only possible to be certain that an advertisement for cigarettes is an advertisement for cigarettes by counter indices, by reading the health warning legend along the bottom.
Caroline Davis, Juliet Gardiner

11. Who Are You Calling an Author? Changing Definitions of Career Legitimacy for Novelists in the Digital Era

Cory Arcangel is not a novelist. ‘Fiction’ is the word on the spine of his latest art project, but even that is a reach. The project is a book of retweets, published by Penguin in 2014, harvested from his feed of anything at all containing the words ‘working on my novel’. His decision to call the result a ‘novel’1 is pure provocation: it bears no resemblance to the books his tweeters intended to write. Bound together, one per page, these hundred-some reports of not-working – because whatever one was doing the moment before or the moment after, the tweet itself is not novel-generating activity – are to the artist ‘about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today’.2 Reviewers see something darker. What is ‘funny, sad and oddly touching’ in the eyes of the Guardian3 is ‘an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion – every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art’ to the Paris Review.4 The artist strains to explain that the project is not, in fact, out to ridicule its subjects, but ridicule is how it strikes these observers. What makes it ‘touching’ – not just ‘delusion’ but affecting, pathetic delusion – is the reviewers’ certainty that these tweeters who declare themselves writers are not writers, and never will be until they can close the app and get to work.
Caroline Davis, Laura Dietz

12. Reconfiguring the Author

Like contemporary critical theory, hypertext reconfigures – rewrites – the author in several obvious ways. First of all, the figure of the hypertext author approaches, even if it does not merge with, that of the reader; the functions of reader and writer become more deeply entwined with each other than ever before.1 This transformation and near merging of roles is but the latest stage in the convergence of what had once been two very different activities. Although today we assume that anyone who reads can also write, historians of reading point out that for millennia many people capable of reading could not even sign their own names. Today when we consider reading and writing, we probably think of them as serial processes or as procedures carried out intermittently by the same person: first one reads, then one writes, and then one reads some more. Hypertext, which creates an active, even intrusive reader, carries this convergence of activities one step closer to completion; but in so doing, it infringes on the power of the writer, removing some of it and granting it to the reader. These shifts in the relations of author and reader do not, however, imply that hypertext automatically makes readers into authors or co-authors – except, that is, in hypertext environments that give readers the ability to add links and texts to what they read.2
Caroline Davis, George Landow

Readership and the Literary Marketplace


13. The Book Market

In twentieth-century England not only everyone can read, but it is safe to add that everyone does read. Though the Report on Public Libraries (1927) states that not more than 11 per cent of the population make use of the public library books, yet the number of Sunday newspapers sold will correct any false impression these figures may give. On the day of leisure even the poorest households take a newspaper, though it may be of a different type from that favoured by the educated. A Sunday morning walk through any residential district will reveal the head of the family ‘reading the paper’ in each front window; in the poorest quarters the News of the World is read on the doorstep or in bed; the weekly perusal of the Observer or the Sunday Times, which give a large proportion of their contents to book-reviews and publishers’ advertisements, is in many cases the only time that even the best-intentioned businessman or schoolmaster can spare for his literary education.
Caroline Davis, Q.D. Leavis

14. A Publisher Looks at Booksellers

In the beginning of their business lives, then, the men who are attracted to the book trade in both of its great branches – bookselling and publishing – are naturally, for the most part, men who love books. There are exceptions. There are publishers and booksellers who would really be a great deal happier if they kept a pair of scales on the counter and sold the stuff by weight. But we will not bother at present about grocers who have taken the wrong turning. We, here, are a society of book men. We are in, or connected with, the book trade because we love books, and though we are under the regrettable necessity of making money out of them, and though the more money we so make the better pleased we are, we would most of us rather be making a moderate competence out of books than a fortune (shall I say?) out of soap.
Caroline Davis, Geoffrey Faber

15. The Scandal of the Middlebrow: The Professional-Managerial Class and the Exercise of Authority in the Literary Field

It should be clear by now that Harry Scherman’s Book-of-the-Month Club did not intervene in the publishing business alone. Through its establishment of a committee of experts and its claim to send out the best book every month to its subscribers, the club additionally disrupted the established structures of literary practice and authority. Indeed, this latter maneuver generated the most intense attacks on the book club and its imitators, widening what had at first been only a trade war. Furthermore, it intensified the ongoing debate about the consequences of mass-produced standardization, especially within the literary field itself.
Caroline Davis, Janice Radway

16. How the British Read

Paperback production seemed to threaten traditional publishing methods, seemed indeed to be a revolution not merely in publishing but in culture itself. The paperback revolution put publishing firmly within an industrial and commercial setting, yet ‘serious’ culture and ‘serious’ literature, in particular, were seen by many critics and publishers alike as antithetical to mass society. Thus the widening of the book market was not merely a commercial but also a moral decision. Critics such as Q. D. Leavis spilt much ink on worrying whether the increase in the market had actually diminished quality – commercial crassness overtaking and overwhelming artistic merit in the search for quick profits. Gentlemen publishers were obliged to take care of business and had no choice but to look for increasing markets. (Their status was always problematic: gentlemen and tradesmen, as Harold Macmillan was considered by his prospective aristocratic parents-in-law.) Geoffrey Faber, for instance, could easily equate the restriction of the market with a retention of artistic quality; by 1934 he was arguing that,
Caroline Davis, Clive Bloom

Censorship and Print Culture


17. The Censor’s New Clothes

In Ancient Rome the responsibilities of the census-taker and the censor were closely aligned. The census-taker counted and classified people. The censor assessed and classified the products of the people’s minds: ideas and their surrogates, books. The entitlement of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum indicates that the offices of papal censorship were similarly conceived.
Caroline Davis, SueCurry Jansen

18. Publishers as Gatekeepers of Ideas

Relations between producers of ideas and their consuming publics or audiences are typically mediated through social mechanisms that provide institutional channels for the flow of ideas. These channels, in turn, are controlled by organizations or persons who operate the sluicegates; they are gatekeepers of ideas inasmuch as they are empowered to make decisions as to what is let ‘in’ and what is kept ‘out.’ Understanding the function of gatekeeping and analyzing the factors that determine the gatekeepers’ decisions will hence give major clues about the ways in which cultural products are selected for distribution.1
Caroline Davis, Lewis A. Coser

19. The Trials and Travels of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

D. H. Lawrence wrote three versions of his novel in response to the operations of the publishing marketplace. Frieda Lawrence recalled: ‘He wrote practically the whole novel three times, the third version is the published one, but my favorite [sic] was the first draught [sic].’1 Richard Aldington has pinpointed a rival work whose success Lawrence wished to emulate in that third version: ‘From the beginning I have wondered if D. H. Lawrence were not a little hopeful to cash in on the pornographic market of Ulysses, especially as his royalties were declining rapidly.’2 If Lawrence’s motivation in recasting his original novella through its more sexually explicit second and third versions was to make money, then the ‘grey market’, consisting of literary fiction bought in expectation of pornography, could be very profitable without the risk of the author necessarily losing status or credibility. Lady Chatterley’s Lover could remain the purchase of the intellectual avant-garde as well as seekers of mere sexual titillation – what Lawrence himself called ‘the “improper” public’.3 The avant-garde, as both creators and audience, can be defined in terms of minority challenges to majority culture. In the case of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, those challenges were both sexual and – in a manner inextricably linked to that – aesthetic. Indeed, the interlocking of the sexually daring and aesthetically adventurous was characteristic of Modernism.4 However, in challenging the mainstream view of how explicit a writer could be in sexual matters, Lawrence was also aligning himself, however unwillingly, with those writers who did it solely for financial gain by writing for the pornography market.
Caroline Davis, Alistair Mccleery

20. Combating Censorship and Making Space for Books

At two a.m. one morning in 1963 the apartheid security police banged on Ronnie Kasrils’s door.1 A series of raids on the homes of political activists followed the sabotage of Durban’s power supply. Just a few hours earlier he had been reading about Pip’s attempt to help Abel Magwitch escape from the authorities, in Dickens’s Great Expectations. News from Mr Walpole not to go home alerted Pip to imminent danger. Kasrils hid beneath the floorboards before his wife Eleanor opened to the police, and he escaped a few hours later. Whether Pip’s experience put Kasrils on his guard, helping him avoid detection, is uncertain. What is certain is that reading Great Expectations in the privacy of his home on the night of a raid meant much to him.2 Eleanor also understood the value of special book spaces. She used Grigg’s bookstore, where she worked, to receive and pass documents from underground couriers to the ANC leadership in Durban and Johannesburg. There were passwords and special signs, like carrying a copy of Time magazine. The courier would ask her, ‘Do you have Olive Schreiner’s Cry the Beloved Country?’ and she would reply, ‘That’s by Alan Paton. Olive Schreiner wrote Story of an African Farm, my favourite South African novel.’ ‘Well, let me take both books’ would be the rejoinder to confirm a genuine contact, and the transfer of secret documents took place.3
Caroline Davis, Archie L. Dick

Books, Propaganda and War


21. Setting up the Propaganda Machine

The Liberal government led by Herbert Asquith was, with the notable exceptions of Lord Haldane and Winston Churchill, totally unprepared for the outbreak of war.1 The German government, on the other hand, had not only anticipated the need for armies and supplies, but also prepared for psychological warfare. There was a German propaganda agency in place in the United States that began to distribute leaflets in many cities and to passengers arriving on transatlantic liners at the outbreak of war.
Caroline Davis, Peter Buitenhuis

22. For Country, Conscience and Commerce: Publishers and Publishing, 1914–18

Just days after the start of the war in Iraq in March 2003, the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 aired a short segment by the journalist Mike Thompson entitled ‘War Books’, which highlighted the scramble by publishers for soldiers’ memoirs.1 Hodder & Stoughton’s representative asserted that ‘everybody will want to read about [the war in Iraq]’. Macmillan was touting its potential blockbuster, entitled Task Force Dagger about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. When the Macmillan editorial director was questioned as to whether the book was more fiction than fact, embellished with thrilling action in order to make it sell, she replied, ‘None of us is a charity. It’s not a philanthropic life.’ (A comment she immediately followed with, ‘Oh my God, I am going to get fired!’) Her counterpart at the American firm Simon & Schuster admitted that ‘the bloodier this war turns out to be, the more books it’s likely to sell.’
Caroline Davis, Jane Potter

23. Publishing and the State: ‘Books of Propaganda Value’

On 30 May 1940 the MoI had written to the Ministry of Supply and the Treasury spelling out its own paper requirements, but also arguing that book publishers should receive preferential treatment: ‘The Ministry [had] reason to fear that if publishers were placed on a par with other non-official users of paper, the effect would be a disproportionate check on the production of books.’1 It was their value for purposes of public morale and long-term propaganda that prompted this apparently generous gesture. According to the accompanying notes, ‘It has been understood that the Ministry will have to charge to its allocation all independent publications to which it gives its support, and in some cases these may be very heavy.’ This explains why ‘paper is more vitally important to the Ministry of Information than to any other Department’. There were two ways in which the book trade might receive MoI ‘support’: ‘Paper used for publications printed by outside publishers of which the Ministry buys the whole or part for its own purposes; and paper used for books and pamphlets printed by outside publishers and sold through commercial channels with the encouragement or at the instigation of the Ministry’, a category under which at that time the MoI was asking the Ministry of Supply for 620 tons of paper. Publishers were still fighting for survival, yet there was no doubt within the MoI that books had cultural and symbolic value, nor that they were an effective means of boosting morale and discreetly spreading propaganda.
Caroline Davis, Valerie Holman

24. Books for the Forces

The importance of, and appetite for, the printed word before and during the Second World War cannot be overstated. In today’s world, where the information highway to the global village is only a mobile phone call away, it is almost impossible to visualise a world where paper was rationed and the radio was the major source of national news. In such an environment, Penguin Books was to play a major role in supplying the reading needs for a population desperate for information and entertainment.
Caroline Davis, Joe Pearson

25. The American Publisher’s Series Goes to War, 1942–1946

The Second World War exalted the importance of books in many ways, most of all by clearly demonstrating the ambivalent power of books to foster evil as well as good. What was good and what was evil, of course, lay in the eye of the beholder. During the run-up to the war, the Nazis reactively burned or banned millions of books that they deemed a threat to their noxious ideology. Proactively, Goebbels and others of Hitler’s henchmen published and circulated masses of books and other printed materials in conformity to the tenets of party doctrine. For its part, the US government, in anticipation of Hitler’s defeat, responded by purchasing and funding the special publication of large numbers of American books to accomplish the goal of weaning the civilians in both overrun and aggressor nations from years of Goebbels’s propaganda. As part of this undertaking, many of the burned-or-banned books were symbolically rubbed in the noses of the citizens of the shattered Third Reich. In concluding that, of all the media, books had the longest-term effect on people’s minds, the government endorsed the cornerstone of the publishers’ professional ideology, the notion that books were uniquely suited to perform vital cultural work.1
Caroline Davis, John B. Hench

Colonial and Postcolonial Print Culture


26. World Literary Space

In the literary world, domination is not exerted in an unequivocal way. Because hierarchical structure is not linear, it cannot be described in terms of a simple model of a single centralized dominant power. If literary space is relatively autonomous, it is also by the same token relatively dependent on political space. This fundamental dependency assumes a variety of forms, particularly political ones, and operates in a variety of ways, most notably through language.
Caroline Davis, Pascale Casanova

27. School Readers in the Empire and the Creation of Postcolonial Taste

To children everywhere it is familiar in the shape of a jigsaw puzzle, but for many who passed through the elementary school system in the British West Indies between 1926 and the early 1960s it possesses an additional resonance, reproduced as it then was on page 199 of Book v of Nelson’s much-used West Indian Readers. Many would have encountered it aged 11 in Standard Five, and read with greater or lesser fluency the accompanying commentary by the editor Captain James Oliver Cutteridge, Director of Education for Trinidad and Tobago and a keen amateur artist. Cutteridge treats the picture as an exercise in perspective. He calls attention to the framing of the South Front by trees, and illustrates on the following page how the sightlines meet at a vanishing point at the base of the famous steeple. Then he issues a curt invitation: ‘Write a paragraph describing, in your own words, what you can see in Constable’s picture.’1
Caroline Davis, Robert Fraser

28. Kenyan Publishing: Independence and Dependence

Very little has been written on the Kenyan publishing industry even though it is one of the most important in Africa. The aim of this chapter is to attempt, for the first time, to discuss the origins and development, the successes and failures, the opportunities and challenges of the Kenyan book industry as comprehensively as possible, from the time of Kenya’s independence to the present day.
Caroline Davis, Henry Chakava

29. African Literature/Anthropological Exotic

The Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) has undoubtedly performed a valuable service, both in fostering the reputations of many gifted African writers and in bringing an increasing number of African literary works – the Series now runs into the hundreds – to the public eye. The emergence of English-language African writing in the 1950s and 1960s, and the wide respect in which it is held today, would be unthinkable without the momentum provided by Heinemann’s promotional enterprise, worldwide distributional networks and financial support. But how, exactly, has Heinemann chosen to promote African literature? A cursory history of the Series suggests that Heinemann, for all its well-intentioned activities, may have contributed to the continuing exoticisation of Africa through misdirected anthropological images; and that the Africa it has promoted by way of its talented literary protégés has been subjected to a self-empowering, implicitly neocolonialist ‘anthropological gaze’ (Lizarríbar 1998: chap. 4).
Caroline Davis, Graham Huggan

30. Africa Writes Back: Heinemann African Writers Series – A Publisher’s Memoir

The African Writers Series was founded in 1962, almost exactly 25 years after the start of Penguin books. The paperback Series was to become to Africans, in its first quarter century, what Penguin Books had been to British readers in its first 25 years. It provided good serious reading at accessible prices for the rapidly emerging professional classes as the countries became independent. The colour orange for novels had been shamelessly copied from Penguin. By the time of its tenth anniversary in 1972, it had come to be called in Africa the ‘orange series’ and was stacked high in the key positions inside the entrances of the university campus bookshops, from one side of Africa to the other. The writer and critic Edward Blishen said at the time of the tenth anniversary in 1972: ‘I shall tell my grandchildren that I owe most of what education I have to Penguins and that through the African Writers Series I saw a new, potentially great, world literature coming into being.’1
Caroline Davis, James Currey

Women and Print Culture


31. A Room of One’s Own

It was disappointing not to have brought back in the evening some important statement, some authentic fact. Women are poorer than men because – this or that. Perhaps now it would be better to give up seeking for the truth, and receiving on one’s head an avalanche of opinion hot as lava, discoloured as dish-water. It would be better to draw the curtains; to shut out distractions; to light the lamp; to narrow the enquiry and to ask the historian, who records not opinions but facts, to describe under what conditions women lived, not throughout the ages, but in England, say in the time of Elizabeth.
Caroline Davis, Virginia Woolf

32. Feminist Publishing in the South

Feminist publishing in the Third World has followed a somewhat different trajectory from its counterpart in the West. Many countries in this part of the world have come to publishing relatively recently, and to indigenous publishing even more recently. Partly this has to do with colonization and empire: in erstwhile colonial countries part of the project of colonialism was to destroy or displace indigenous systems of knowledge, and to put new ones in their place. One of the consequences of this was the marginalization of oral cultures and the gradual turning towards print. As a first step here languages which did not have an orthography had to be ‘given’ one, again something that was often undertaken by the colonizers. Once introduced, however, publishing and books became major instruments in the educational process, a development that was not entirely without problems. The first of these was to develop indigenous authors, something which cannot be done overnight, and something which is doubly difficult to do without adequate resources. For some considerable time, books had to continue to be imported. Not only was this expensive, but it also continued the process of the colonization of knowledge begun by the colonizers.
Caroline Davis, Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon

33. ‘Books with Bite’: Virago Press and the Politics of Feminist Conversion

There is some considerable distance between being lambasted by a characteristically curmudgeonly Anthony Burgess for militant political chauvinism, and squeamish recoil from ideological commitment under the guise of avoiding ‘political correctness’. That both of these quotations refer to the public face of Britain’s Virago Press during the course of a single decade highlights the extent to which the women’s publishing house has reinvented itself for a new generation of readers. Such a marked volte-face must derive either from a suspiciously late twentieth-century obsession with self-reinvention and novelty for its own sake or, more fundamentally, from a crisis of house identity suffered by Virago and its directors. Such a seizure of self-doubt can be pinpointed with unusual accuracy: the linchpin between the two faces of Virago outlined above is the sale of the press in November 1995 to Little, Brown & Co. UK, a subsidiary of the US-based multinational Time Warner.1 The sale, and the flurry of negative publicity that surrounded it, represented a critical phase not only for Virago, but for feminist publishing as a whole, as falling profits and uninspiring frontlists forced reconsideration of feminist publishing’s agenda – a thorough-going industry soul-searching of the kind that Virago had not undertaken publicly in the course of its 23-year history. For this reason, the 1995 sale of Virago serves as a critical vantage point from which to survey the press’s history and against which the company’s post-1996 relaunch can be measured. Beneath the breathless rush of the new Virago’s promotional copy, it is possible to discern a frantic search for the winning formula by which Virago formerly united its profits with its politics – and the belief that this elusive link is capable of being reconstituted in the consumer-dominated, politically skittish 1990s and beyond.
Caroline Davis, Simone Murray

34. She Needs a Website of Her Own: The ‘Indie’ Woman Writer and Contemporary Publishing

Despite the social and political gains women have made in the developed world over the last century, contemporary female writers are still being told by their publishers that ‘more people will read authors who are men than are women’.1 Anecdotal evidence suggests such thinking continues to pervade the publishing industry.2 Joanna Rowling, whose Harry Potter series placed her on Forbes’s billionaire list, was famously advised by her publisher to use her initials J.K. in order to ensure her appeal to young male readers. Feminist poet and columnist Katha Pollit argued that ‘the kind of rapturous high-cultural reception given to writers who are white and male and living in Brooklyn’3 is rarely accorded to women writers, because it is assumed they only address ‘stereotypically feminine topics’ such as the family, whereas male authors who write about the family are considered to be writing about ‘the human condition’. Evidence from the organization for Women in the Literary Arts (VIDA) suggests women’s writing is also less likely to be reviewed by significant literary outlets. Since 2009 the ‘VIDA Count’ has tracked the number of male and female authors reviewed in significant literary journals in America and Britain. Although the count does not include data on submission by gender, the gender disparities in reviews and reviewers are still striking. In prestigious publications such as the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and the New Yorker, more than 70% of the books reviewed in 2013 were authored by men. The gender imbalance extended to critics, with many outlets featuring four times more male reviewers than female reviewers. The 2013 VIDA Count showed some signs of progress, noting that a few periodicals such as the New York Times Book Review had increased the proportion of female authors reviewed from 33% to 41%. Given the extensive media interest in the VIDA Count and the encouragement of visitors to the website to contact editors to express their disappointment about gender ratios, this may suggest the way the Internet is enabling efforts to focus attention and action on gender inequalities in the publishing industry.
Caroline Davis, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, Rumsha Shahzad

Literary Prize Culture


35. Literary Prizes and the Media

At about the beginning of the 1980s, Britain’s literary culture in respect of the novel began to undergo a series of rapid and fascinating changes. Prior to this time – in other words during the immediate post-war period until well into the 1970s – Britain’s serious literary novelists were likely to achieve notice through either (a) the production of one title that captured the public imagination, or (b) a steady output that contrived to reach a faithful, and usually increasing, readership. Among the best-known examples of the former are the successes of William Golding and John Fowles. Golding’s Lord of the Flies first appeared in 1954; by the 1960s it had become a ‘set text’ both in Britain and overseas. By the 1980s Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) had taken its place in academe as Britain’s best-known postmodernist novel. Both books were subsequently filmed, Fowles’s novel more recently and famously as we have seen, than Golding’s (although it was Peter Brook who wrote the screenplay for Lord of the Flies). Well-known examples of the latter category of steady output include the achievements of Graham Greene from the 1940s onwards, and Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark from the 1950s onwards.
Caroline Davis, Richard Todd

36. How It All Began

At the age of eighteen, during the autumn of 1951, I spent three months in Paris. I well remember sharing in the excitement which surrounded the literary prizes throughout that season. The Prix Goncourt above all, but also the smaller ones. Virtually every evening the subject would come up. Before the prizes were announced, the merits or demerits of the winner were analysed. Within a brief period of the announcement, half the people I met seemed to have read the Goncourt winner. Such intellectual fervour left a lasting impression on me.
Caroline Davis, Tom Maschler

37. Genre in the Marketplace

Literary prizes are one of the wider agencies involved in book marketing, and are not, on the whole, initiated, let alone controlled, by publishers. Nonetheless, prizes still play a crucial role in the interaction between genre and the marketplace, and are one of the forces that come to influence notions of cultural value and literariness. Ostensibly, what every book award might claim to do is to recognise and reward value. A corollary part of this mission is, then, the promotion of the winner or winners: literary prizes can bring relatively unknown writers to public recognition, enhance the reputation of already established authors, turn the attention of the media to books, and so support the consumption of literature generally. As such, the role of literary prizes is already more complex than as an index of literary achievement, and they have a broad range of motivations and implications.1 Moreover, awarding a prize to a book acts not only to indicate value, but also to confer it. Value is thus doubly constructed in the realm of literary prizes. Yet even before the role of literary prizes in constituting notions of value is assessed, and the contingent nature of value examined, the organisational structures of prizes suggest how they contribute to genre definition and literary categorisation. The entry requirements for each prize provide the key to this. The Booker Prize, for example, ‘aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a British or Commonwealth author’.2 The novel must also be originally written in English and published by a UK-based publishing house. The definition that the prize gives is to do with national and regional identity, and also the market through which the novel has been published. This definition has contributed to analyses of the Booker Prize as promoting post-colonial writing from within the context of UK cultural imperialism.3 What is of greater direct impact on the definition of genre, though, is the first part of the description: ‘the best novel’. This may seem at first glance to be an absolute definition (within the already circumscribed entry requirements), but by placing it alongside the entry requirements of other prizes its function with regard to genre becomes apparent. A brief survey of the ‘Prizes and Awards’ section of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook yields, among others, a list including the Boardman Tasker Prize (for the best book ‘concerned with the mountain environment’), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (for ‘best science fiction novel’), the Betty Trask Award (for the best first novels ‘of a romantic or traditional nature’), the Crime Writers’ Association ‘Daggers’ (for best crime writing), the Encore Award (for ‘best second novel’), the Lichfield Prize (for the best novel ‘based recognisably on the geographical area of Lichfield District, Staffordshire’), the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year (for the best book by ‘any author of Scottish descent or living in Scotland, or for a book by anyone which deals with the work or life of a Scot or with a Scottish problem, event or situation’).4 Some, such as the Arthur C. Clarke and the Crime Writers’ Association awards use traditional genre definitions, while others choose quite different categorisations. What these entry requirements do, be they stated in terms of the book’s subject matter, genre, or author biography, is to indicate a series of relative ‘bests’. It is in this comparative light that Booker’s definition of ‘the best novel’ acquires generic implications. For the Booker is awarded to the best non-genre novel or, in other words, the best ‘literary’ novel. By not naming the category, though, what the Booker does is to confirm the ‘literary’ novel at the top of genre hierarchies. The phrase ‘best novel’ equates with ‘best literary novel’, and so it is implied that the winner of the Booker is better than the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke.
Caroline Davis, Claire Squires

38. Scandalous Currency

As we’ve already noted, the discourse surrounding cultural prizes has long been predominantly negative in tone.1 Historically, it is difficult to find anyone of any stature in the world of arts and letters who speaks with unalloyed respect for prizes, and still more difficult to find books or articles (other than those underwritten by the prize sponsors themselves) that do not strike the familiar chords of amused indifference, jocular condescension, or outright disgust. It seems moreover to be the case that the most prestigious awards draw the most intensely critical sniping. It is not the little start-up prizes, or the eccentric, whimsical prizes, or the prizes in low-prestige genres like romance or pornography, which ‘everyone hates’ (though these are often the object of dismissive, just-what-we-need-another-prize remarks), but rather the very prizes which we should have thought everyone wanted to win: in America the Pulitzers or Academy Awards, in Britain the Booker or the BAFTAs, nearly everywhere the Nobel. And not only are the high-prestige, high-culture prizes the ones most frequently and bitterly derided, but the most derisive commentators tend to be the highest-prestige authors and artists and critics – the very people who constitute the pool of potential judges and prizewinners, and from whom we might therefore have expected a certain degree of diplomacy, if not an actual endorsement.
Caroline Davis, James F. English

Globalisation and the Book


39. The Future of Publishing

One of the reasons the development of publishing throughout the world is so interesting is that it is truly a microcosm of the different societies in which it exists and a mirror of the way in which modern capitalism has evolved. Technically, there is no inherent reason for publishing to be very different from what it was in the nineteenth century. Until quite recently, it still followed the traditional artisanal model rather than the modern corporate one, and in fact was not so different from the enterprises Balzac describes in Lost Illusions. More important, publishing was seen as a profession, not just as a business. People who were really interested in making money did not choose it as a career. Though of course publishers needed to make enough to keep their companies going, none expected the business to be wildly profitable. As I pointed out in The Business of Books, the average profit of publishing houses throughout Western Europe and the United States, during much of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, was in the range of 3 to 4 percent per annum, roughly the amount of interest paid by a savings bank. Until the firms began to be bought up by large media conglomerates, only a few decades ago, that percentage was considered perfectly adequate. It was only when the new owners began to compare the profits of their publishing houses with those of their radio networks, television stations, newspapers, and magazines that they began to worry. How could they justify ‘subsidizing’ their book publishers at the expense of their other holdings? This is the way they often explained their position. Surely the publishers could manage to earn at the very least 10 percent a year, if not 15 percent, bringing themselves into line with what the others were making.
Caroline Davis, AndrÉ Schiffrin

40. The Effect of Globalisation in Africa and the Choice of Language in Publishing

According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International, Linguists who monitor the status of surviving languages predict that approximately half of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world today will die during the 21st century. As each language vanishes, tens of thousands of years of cultural heritage and traditional knowledge are lost (Wheeler quoted in Hope 1997: 2)
Caroline Davis, Walter Βgoya

41. The Global Book

Publishers are repositioning themselves to take advantage of the globalization of book markets. They are reviewing their internal structures and are keen to obtain the world rights to potential bestsellers. The success of authors such as Stephanie Meyer and Stieg Larsson has shown how books can sell in large numbers across a variety of markets, and franchises can develop in other media. Will the growth of ebooks drive the penetration of bestsellers across different markets? What will happen in smaller markets, faced with competition from the global players?
Caroline Davis, Angus Phillips

42. The Globalization of Literature

The role of publishing in the global spread of English in the late twentieth century can hardly be underestimated. In numerous ways this contributes to the prospects for English studies […], including the possibility of dispensing with Englishness from English studies and Americanness from American studies. Equally, though, the centring of the global publishing industry in English in the United States and the United Kingdom may well undermine that envisaged possibility, and perpetuate and extend the cultural imperialism of Englishness and Americanness in new guises. Despite Venuti’s dark prognosis of the unevenness of and absences within what is translated for Western readers (mentioned in the previous chapter too), the global cultural capital that English is acquiring and the global reach of publishing in English suggests that translations into English from all languages will pick up further. Anxieties may very reasonably attach to the modes of selection and emphasis that will mediate such increased scope of translations into English. Whether the dominance of English will continue to the detriment of various minority languages that are still used for literary production and consumption, and the industries that serve them, remains to be seen – it seems likely that would happen. These are the predictable paths that seem to lie before us. However, it is worth unpicking some of the complexities and contradictions which lie within these very generalized expectations too – for which the specific context of Indian publishing in English at the beginnings of the twenty-first century is worth pausing on.
Caroline Davis, Suman Gupta

43. The Global Literary Field and Market Postcolonialism

What kind of commodity is a book? The average novel is not a commodity in the way that, say, Coke is a commodity, because the word ‘book’ implies a variety of distinct products – there are currently several million separate titles in print – whereas Coke implies uniformity. With a book, too, there is presumably more room between articulation and reception, more space for the consumer to construct meaning, and each book product contains a distinct symbolic content. ‘Books’ are not just books; the word stands in for an assemblage of separate entities, and variety in content leads to complexity of ordering and distribution, and in turn to special technologies for stock control and consumer profiling. Moreover, books cannot move easily across borders due to linguistic and cultural differences that impede easy dissemination. Coke is Coke wherever it goes. Barring a few basic changes to its packaging and design, the content is the same, whereas books require translation and what Eva Hemmungs Wirtén has termed ‘transediting.’1 Notwithstanding all this, isn’t Coke itself a complex carrier of different symbolic material, and isn’t its meaning as a product something that varies with consumption? And can’t the ambiguities of a literary work be reduced to insignificance in certain circumstances, its meaning turned into the embodiment of a singular ideology? Moreover, isn’t there a global network of readers of English-language literary works that makes transediting largely unnecessary, as communities across the globe access the newest Salman Rushdie title with relative ease?
Caroline Davis, Sarah Brouilette
Additional information