Friday, August 27, 2010

Everything Has Its Price is one of my favorite websites to browse when underoccupied, and given how quiet it’s been here lately I’ve been spending quite a lot of time on the site. One of my favorite things yesterday was a blog post about a close reading of Cat Fancy magazine. Which is a real magazine. It got me thinking about doing a close reading of my own – but what magazine? I rummaged around my desk until I alighted upon a copy of Publishers Weekly, our industry’s cornerstone publication.

What simultaneously amuses and irritates me about PW is the magazine’s practice of allowing different entities to sponsor its cover. Not a tear-off sheet, but the actual cover. This week, honors were obviously bought by the Church of Scientology, as the cover features the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest as announced by a banner and also an apocalyptic graphic of a flaming quill set against a galaxy of stars. It’s a glossy, fancy fold-out design, with an inside panel celebrating Hubbard the writer (not Hubbard the mad man, sadly) that unfolds to a double-spread celebrating some previous winners. I wonder how much this cost them? (They also bought the back cover, too)

Next comes the table of contents, which I never really look at because PW has a pretty predictable structure. We jump past the audio ad to the following page and BAM! It’s Google. I’m so sick of Google. They have an article about Google every week. This week’s anxiety attack is about the Google/Verizon settlement (purported existence of), and what this means for the Google Book Settlement. The answer is: we’re fucked regardless.

Underneath the Google hysteria page are the first items in the “News Briefs” sections: People, Places, and Things. Molly Stern has moved to Crown after resolving a contract dispute with Penguin – apparently 375 Hudson Street wouldn’t release her as she had eight months left there per her employment agreement, so she stopped coming into the office. It’s an interesting move because Stern primarily edits fiction, a genre that Crown doesn’t really publish. Obviously there’s an aesthetic shift for them on the horizon, so keep your eyes peeled: a new imprint or an acquisition spree? Agents, make your lunch dates! There’s also more dirty business going on in the Barnes & Noble ownership struggle (what else is new?), and some scandal about a teen lit festival in Texas. Apparently censorship is alive and well in the Lone Star State, which (sadly) is hardly suprising.

However, even more disturbing than this is the letter from the president of PW announcing PW Select, a new quarterly publication for self-published authors. I have many issues with self-publishing, the primary one being that, unless they are very careful and thorough, people often get massively ripped off. And now here’s PW, a venerated publication, joining in the merciless free-for-all! For a simple “processing fee” (just like an infomercial) of $149 -- $149!!!! – self-published authors can have their books listed in this supplement. PW will review 25 of them: “we briefly considered charging for reviews,” says president George W. Slowik, Jr., “but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy.” Thank god they maintained some integrity. But only a little, as they are marketing this thing as a legitimate publication when it is really just a glorified advertising circular, the kind that supermarkets sometimes stuff into the Sunday New York Times.

This “circular” format is apparently how PW got started way back in 1872, but the magazine definitely does not present itself as such now; as a major review format, it cultivates a reputation for independent criticism and journalism that is unaffiliated with any particular publisher or author. By naming their new circular PW Select they are clearly abusing this reputation, using it to confer a false sense of legitimacy and integrity upon a wholly commercial product. Essentially, they are sullying their name for the sake of conning people out of $150 a pop, and I think it’s a big and disturbing mistake. If you want to read more, check out this GalleyCat post.

Now I’m actually quite angry. So angry, in fact, that I kind of don’t want to read PW anymore. This is too much. People already criticize legitimate publishers for putting profit above aesthetic integrity; how is this going to help counter that ill-founded reputation? URGH. I'm off to find something less ennervating to read.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Great post Hannah. I have similar reactions when reading PW.