[ on why writers aren’t writers anymore and publishers aren’t publishers ]
I came upon this funny discussion between Amazon and Hachette the other day (chance, fate, arrangement …) and since it really coincides with recent developments on my end, I decided to dedicate a few words on this. As things stand in terms of present-day reality unfoldment (what I exactly mean by that I’ll go to show), I’d consider, seen from both my angles as an Author and Publisher, the following conclusions to be quite valuable.
Starting off, it seems reasonable to first raise the following question:
What’s the real value of Information / Knowledge? Bringing to mind the lost library of Alexandria and the secrecy with which True Knowledge has been primarily passed-down orally (spiritual / esoteric tradition, human body cultivation matters and true human history as an example) – you really couldn’t put any price tag it, could you? Nothing in this world could be more valuable than Real, True Knowledge. Obtaining teachings or insights that would henceforth elevate your being, raise your level of awareness, alter the existential state of who’d otherwise be hopelessly trapped and lost within the mysterious maze of tangible reality – how could anyone possibly pay for that? Scholars obviously know this very well and that’s why they’re probably the only ones who’d still truly cherish their scrolls and scriptures and wouldn’t ever intend to ‘sell’ them.
So any added-on tangible Value in this regard can be said to be done through a combination of ‘calculated’, ‘symbolic’ and ‘political’ value.
The calculated part is easy and straightforward (at least theoretically, leaving deformities like off-shore slave labour aside …). The financial loss of printing, distribution, managing, and so forth, has to not only be balanced-even but creamed with profits, for everyone involved to make the game worthwhile playing. That’s just normal, everyday procedure in the midst of any human things. Looked at purely from this angle, the value of a book itself (regardless of the intellectual / spiritual / moral / artistic value of its actual contents) would be roughly this: One then would’ve to lay down about £ 50,- for a book that has been properly bound by one of the dwindling craftspeople who still upholds the original tradition of binding. Factory treatment could bring that down to probably something between £ 5,- and £ 10,-, (which presently is also matched with Print on Demand, roughly). About 10 – 50 p for a China glued paperback it would probably be. And for an e-book that value would certainly go down to about less than a penny. Isn’t that the case?
Then what about the political value and all the rich and ambitious diversity of pricing policies? That’s of course the issue both of you are currently engaging yourself quarreling about. And good luck with it, either way.
As to the symbolic value. Well, now we’re getting closer to the core. Let’s face it: who is to say anymore? In an instilled cultural climate of pseudo freedom and alleged egaliteriasm – what’s more valuable, for instance? A scruffy paperback edition of Eric Berne’s Structure and Dynamics of Groups and Organisations or an exclusive hand-signed hard-back copy of Dr. Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Positive Thinking? A falling-apart second-hand edition of Carlos Santillana’s and Bertha von Dechend’s book Hamlet’s Mill or a gold-cut special edition of collected writings by Penrose / Dawkins et al that might be entitled Pinnacle of Scientific Achievements of Modern Man? Or what about a coffee-stained copy of Aristotle’s New York Classic’s Club collection On Man in the Universe? What about a cutely illustrated Christmas edition of Stephen Hawking’s number crunching? Who’d be there to put value on it? The ‘community’, ha ha ha?
Within a not-much talked-about, much less marketed niche section, there’s always the specialist literature like low print-runs of NLP related advertising techniques that have of course a symbolic price tag on them. As do some rare books about the Magic Arts. Actually, they’re both not too far away from the oral traditions that we mentioned earlier.
Basically, the artificially created, socially-engineered climate of ‘consumer choice’ and ‘market driven economy’ has led to the quite absurd phenomenon (especially when it comes to the key topic of knowledge and books) that consumers are indeed making the choice. Mind you, without being derogatory towards the ‘people’ as mass consumers – but what can they ever know? The most important or truly relevant truths about the Human Condition – that we’re not at all free but sadly conditioned, that there are divine workings behind the scenes that control everything, that the human body is, on a microcosmic level, a small universe that has the innate ability to cultivate towards spiritual completion, that the actual philosophy behind the philosopher’s stone couldn’t be more scientific, etc, etc – all of this is being methodically kept outside of people’s petty freedom to wallow in whatever ignorance, mediocrity and denial they fancy. Their paradigm of self-interest and safely travelling along the course of fate set in place by their overriding obscure notions means that behind the reality curtain divine master-plans are inevitably having the last laugh. Their pettiness meanwhile can be easily exploited by any human power-trippers through the vast array of secret underhanded psychological manipulation. That’s why the rich – freed now of any moral obligations (through so-called ‘books’) – can get richer so easily and the poor ones (while still having food and shelter as long as they keep ‘reading’) are impoverished mentally and morally as never before in history.
Speaking of Orwell, then, his involvement with the Secret Services did of course endow him with the knowledge of many many things, otherwise impossible to know for poor book-reading mortals. But Truth, as we all know, is a Mountain. Unlike fellow service family member Aleister Crowley, Orwell (having operated outside of more secretive mystery teachings) couldn’t have possibly known the real agenda behind the knowledge inflation that was to be rolled-out from paperbacks and glossy life-style magazines all the way to internet and e-books. We won’t repeat this agenda here as we’ve talked about its inner workings from our very first Unspeakable issue of draft magazine. But that such an agenda does indeed exist, most intellectuals are very aware of.
The ultimate goal behind it is not power, contrary to what one may think. That’s just the hook (a programmed condition) used on certain hopeless individuals (so-called ‘useful idiots’) to act it out among the general unsuspecting public. We don’t view any of the above-mentioned things in terms of conspiracy (despite conspiring, from a psychological standpoint, being done even in the tiniest cells of ordinary families) but we rather view things in terms of larger arrangements.
But let’s take our discussion back to the root of the present problem. What would it actually entail to be working as an Author today?
It used to be that Scribes were those who’ve inherited the Tradition (Lost Civilizations, Spiritual Heritage, True History, etc) and after finding themselves in the position to do so (understanding themselves to be blessed with the required knowledge and status), would then responsibly pass-down their wisdom and thinking for posterity. So-called fiction or tales used to be a good way to encode true knowledge, so that people from all walks of life could extract wisdom according to their present state of mind. You could say, the Guild of Writers (and High Art as well) was centered around the priesthood and directly connected with the realm of the divine. ‘Becoming a writer’ was basically unthinkable without some kind of ‘initiation’. Such pools of sages are usually referred to as Gnostics. Writing without a background like this seemed a task impossible to the point of ridiculousness. Who’d be indulging themselves in bouts of vanity if that’s just the exact opposite of what true writers are supposed to be doing? Aren’t they all, without a single exception, attempting to soothe our human predicament by connecting us back to what is higher and truer?
Yet even then, already Plato identified such problem – “what’s the point of making books widely available if people don’t know how to read them?” Without an additional oral tradition, being able to truly ‘read’ isn’t actually achieved by the digestion of books in and of themselves. Hence, religious circles talk about an outer exoteric tradition (keep the sheep good and at stake by reading to them meaningful, morally uplifting stories) and an inner esoteric tradition (cultivate oneself towards godhood by deeply exploring and comprehending those very same stories, as well as other, more secret, non-canonical ones).
So what’s a Publisher, then? Well, generally speaking, it’s the Divine Realm that ‘publishes’ – that decides what man is allowed to know and how it’s being made available. Flicking through H. G. Wells’ sweet little History of the World, Jesus and Shakyamuni seemed to have been the only ones who’d have had anything ‘real’ to say, and they weren’t deemed to leave for posterity anything tangible in writing. For us cultivators and scholars, then, it’s quite clear that behind the curtains, such a divine relationship is also in place with the Houses of Amazon and Hachette. Why are large companies oftentimes referred to as incorporated?
On a mundane level, publishers are a bit like Roofs or Umbrellas, supposed to both protect and issue forth all those precious gems that evolved from the minds of their elected scribes. In terms of ‘Existenzberechtigung’, wouldn’t that be their main purpose? Had hand-written scrolls, back in the days, needed something like a modern-day publisher? Yet, they were in a way still done under a roof, recorded and kept there – in Monasteries or under a King’s Law – and under their conditions being made accessible to the world outside. In this regard, publishers and libraries are perhaps more closely related than publishers and book stores? Just an idea.
And what’s a publisher today? Market-driven economy dictates growth that shareholders put in all their expectations. That’s one. Would Pythagoras or Lao Tzu or Confucius have greatly benefitted from a worldwide marketing strategy or – even if the general public would’ve grasped such things, which even back then, on a large scale seemed highly unlikely – would such a hyping and product positioning not have actually destroyed the essence of their teaching?
So once again, we really have to face it: What the public wants today is to aspire to greatness themselves and to the liberation of the individual through stardom-ship and facebook hit-ship. And the profit-maximizing purpose of the powers behind such easy-to-digest content (movie, record, book, art, etc) is to give it to them. Hype one of them and milk them for good on the one hand, while on the other hand stifle and foster the hopes of all the rest of them, the ‘losers’, by electing non-relevance and mediocrity to be on top (‘one of their own kind’). True greatness, tradition and talent – among the masses of sacrificial lambs being led into the Abyss – shall not be seen so easily. Not only that it couldn’t be understood anymore, anyway. Even if it could be understood by some, it would disturb the intricate illusion of people’s instigated life purposes. Which is, spelled out and put simply: fake progress and fake glory.
Certainly, seeing those phenomena being played-out must’ve been why one of the few last ‘intellectuals’ like Jonathan Franzen, after presenting to this void two all-time literary masterpieces in vain (Strong Motion & The 27th City), felt like Why Bother? (one of his essays from the How to Be Alone book). How to still live up to the responsibility that higher realms would lay into the hands of those ‘chosen’ to write – to become ‘scribes’ in this dark, ugly world? To be perfectly honest, we also can only agree. Bothering is a real challenge once you know how it works. The Machine geared towards wholesome obliteration is just too insurmountably heavy to be able to fight against. Besides, isn’t it enough to be liberating oneself? Why play the scapegoat by trying to save others, too? Others who ‘wholeheartedly’ even want to go down that sinister road anyway? Haven’t the Daoist Immortals passed down their innermost secrets from among three carefully chosen disciples only to the one they finally felt to be the most deserving?
But of course, the Buddha school on the other hand teaches the salvation of all sentient beings, and it is for this reason, owing to my inherent subscription to beliefs such as these, that I’m still doing what I’m doing. And it turns out – despite the enormity of the Machine and what not – that there’s indeed light at the end of this dark and damp tunnel. The whole process that I’ve been sent through led to paving a way both for ourselves as well as for those who might follow. Naturally – and this is why total freedom of the individual is ultimately also a good thing – as reality continues to progress forward, anything True (‘in the Dao’) will inevitably be the last thing standing after everything else has simply fallen by the wayside.
And it is from this perspective that I feel both Hachette and Amazon have an equally valid point.
One thing that had to be achieved in the larger arrangement of things is worldwide accessibility. If Freedom of Information has any meaning at all beyond mere lip service, then Amazon’s no-ISBN tag, no-agency filter, no-question asked, no-hassle opt-in & opt-out publishing avenue has been the only enterprise we know of that has truly accomplished such a thing. So big-ups in this direction. I’d like to sincerely thank you guys working hard along the front lines on this occasion.
When it comes to pricing – well, for True Knowledge, even if an e-book were priced at £ 1.000,- everyone would still pay the price, wouldn’t they? If only they knew. It’s just that it wouldn’t be quite fair in terms of profit margins for such an ephemeral format as a digital copy on the one hand. And it couldn’t be set against a more tangible, more real hard-copy edition to grace your lap.
Back in the olden days, when purchasing software packages meant that you get fully illustrated and carefully manufactured large book manuals, it really seemed that the heavy cost of let’s say 3-d software packages was offset by obtaining something tangible and real – rather than zipped pay-as-you go downloads like today. Sure, not many read the small print that they haven’t actually obtained anything other than the license to ‘use’ the software. It was only being ‘lent’ to them, they didn’t ‘own’ it. They’ve been kept on a legal hook, so to speak, and that’s probably about the essence of the digital electronic realm. It’s just not quite real. But it’s cheap and quick and featherlight. And that’s in our view the strong point with e-books. Yet – what if electricity suddenly fails us? Or batteries run out on the beach or while in the forest?
The inflation of information that came about through electronic books is offset by the relatively increased scarcity of hard-copies. Any valuable book will continue to thrive in their having been kept alive through the used book market. On the used market, all objects relativize themselves into scarcity, demand and condition. Once they arrive there, they’re not anymore under the domain of their original publishing houses. Many of the houses would by then been dead, anyway – either sold, bought or swallowed. They certainly could never outlive their greatest creations.
So when it comes to tangible hard-copies, then – imagining true knowledge being set starkly against the backdrop of mainstream entertainment for a moment. Or when reality commences to extract the pearls from the fish-eyes for everyone to see – wouldn’t it become crystal-clear that the houses have failed everyone as a controlling and protecting entity (writers and readers alike) and therefore lost all credibility?
As soon as people are given a fair choice and the present ‘one voice system’ is abandoned, then would there be still the need for any ‘middle men’? Wouldn’t it all suddenly clear-up into a pure and unadulterated gateway directly between writer and reader? The cultural groundwork for this certainly has been laid with the net, paypal, mpeg and e-book. Also street art, in my view, as well as open source and freeware, has been playing an important role in this, culturally speaking.
A logical continuation of this principle would be that the Writers themselves could be issuing their own editions. Vanity Press for everyone. Without much fuzz or hype, and with always the affordable e-book option to fall back on, no large-scale print-runs would ever be needed. Print on demand. One copy at a time. Thanks for the appreciation. Couldn’t they, the writers, then charge whatever they wanted? Couldn’t they package their work and contextualize and position it however way they pleased? Wouldn’t they have liberated themselves from the ever-encroaching shackles of publishing houses and thus establish their own pricing policies and their own slice in the cake of the market? Wouldn’t their hand-signed, hand-made editions be akin in value to art collector’s originals, with similarly attractive profit margins? Wouldn’t their pieces of work directly and suddenly take the place of company ‘shares’? If ever bigger print runs seem to be needed, there are sure to be distributors lining up to woe for the contract with their most attractive offers. Wouldn’t that have essentially turned the tables? Wouldn’t that set straight the increasingly diffused, fading picture of the relationship between Creator and Distributor?
Now that I’ve said this much and being well aware of the might at your fingertipping disposal having no trouble at all to keep in check such unfortunate developments (and this applies to Hachette probably more than to Amazon) – who among the big guys can ultimately keep-up walking the Centre Line? Mind you, I’m not attacking anything and I’m not pointing fingers or holding grudges with any party in the grander scheme of things. Who’s to blame, anyway? The Goddess of Providence? I’m merely reaching out to whoever would like to talk …
What I’m doing is to matter-of-factly bring the whole book issue down to its common-sense bottom-line again. I haven’t spoken about responsibilities of Writers or Publishers seen from higher levels. It’s a very complicated matter, just to give you an idea, of why someone like Charles Darwin ‘lost his faith’ while reading family friend Charles Lyall on that ship to the Canaries and subsequently wrote what he wrote. And exactly how he ended-up making it public for people around him to distribute and market it accordingly. He himself was very hesitant, apparently. The responsibilities of the writer will always still be an individual matter. And that of the real, tangible person actually producing and publishing him as well. Gods will always be pulling the strings as that’s what they do. But humans will make decisions that can be ‘wrong’ down the line.
It’s been said that while everything is under divine control – “nothing can escape the Tathagata’s palm” – whatever happens here among mortals is maintained volatile and ‘free’ with “the only unstable factor is the Human Heart.”
[ tags: writing, publishing, ebooks, hardcopies, publishing houses, value, worth, object, truth, scribes, priesthood, oral tradition, passing down, knowledge, deception, suppression, persecution, perception management, falsification of history, social engineering,, … ]