Wednesday 1 July 2009

Vulture Publishing

This is not the name of a new imprint, but a tentative description of the UK publishing scene.

The King of Pop's demise – may his bald, scarred, skeletal body rest in peace – has encouraged a commissioning spree among some of our most valiant publishers.

John Blake was the first one to lay down his cards and make the bold move – due to trade and popular demand – of rushing out a half-baked biography of Michael Jackson (less than two months between commissioning and release, i.e. an instant biography). He was immediately followed by a busy bandwagon of brave publishers, including – among others – Michael O'Mara, Carlton and Montreal-based Transit Media, whose book – supposed to tie in with the popstar's London concerts – is undergoing "a frantic rewrite".

And Headline, one of the big guys, is today "entering the Jackson race" with a brand new book, and planning an initial print run of – wait for it – 175,000 copies.

What's going on, I wonder? Have we all gone mad? Are these heatwave-induced decisions? Publicity stunts? Isn't there a more responsible way to use paper? No doubt some of these books will crop up in the Top 50 chart, but what is the point of all this? Can somebody tell me? Please?



  1. Well, pretty obviously this has much to do with commerce and little to nothing to do with art or literacy. To this degree, perhaps, the book industry has become more and more like the film industry: largely a vector for entertainment, with less than 1% (and that may be generous) reserved for "art." I wonder how different this is from the past, however. We still only remember the 1% that's worth remembering. A glance at best-seller lists from previous decades is a salutory experience.

  2. I suppose you are right, Scott, but I think that 1% was slightly more decent than our 1%. And I also think it's a much more frustrating experience to be a publisher, an agent, a bookseller or an author these days.


  3. Does it work like obituaries? Perhaps some publishers make a prediction of who is most likely to pop his/her clogs and commission biographies in readiness. Most of these books will be bought but abandoned before page 99.


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