Saturday, November 03, 2007

Richard and Judy

Just as I was told (by my agent, who knows such things) that a book chosen by Richard and Judy will at once sell 300,000 extra copies, we learn their Channel 4 show is to end. 'Richard Madeley' is simultaneously angry, lyrical and defiant. I interviewed these two once and found them and found them both pleasant, strange and extravagantly ordinary. They seemed, somehow, unanchored, products of a floating world. The odd vehemence of Richard's blurted opinions suggested a kind of eccentric neutrality and Judy's long-suffering mumsiness appeared to be a pose but an unchosen one, as if 'Judy' was just what she had to be. This is, I suppose, what is required of television stars - being everything to everyone without being no-one. Sadly, their book stuff is likely to continue. Sadly because they have helped shore up the present, lamentable state of the book market in which bookshops dictate what will and won't sell and demand money for window display and even those phony 'staff pick' shelves. R & J just helped them rig the market more effectively. Such a criticism will mean nothing to them, of course; to themselves, they are just what they must be - too of the culture to be clearly seen by the culture.


  1. Is there a slight smile, well tucked in, someplace. Is /was there talk of them giving a mention to an Appleyard.

  2. Bryan, pedantic point but it's not so much 'bookshops' that demand the money as 'book chains'. It's book shops that continue to try, against the odds, to help navigate their customers through the maze of some 100,000 books that are published each year.

    There's little but trouble ahead for publishers,book chains and book shops

  3. The trouble is that publishers have traditionally possessed a fatal attraction for the magnetism of genre fiction - chic-lit, serial-killers, Bible-codes etc - without necessarily promoting its deeper artistic claims. They are neither blind nor indifferent to economic matters. But as literary conventions become static and petrify, public attitudes, too, become entangled with “phony 'staff pick' shelves“ and the publishing industry’s increasing demand for turnover and profit - a process in which brainwashing and cultural engineering plays a significant part. And in its tendency to resist change, the establishment merely “rig the market more effectively” with the phoney birth of the brilliant-new-voice-in-writing (Booker) pseudoculture. For when the fury has ceased and the celebrations end, there are very few writers of significance who emerge from “the present, lamentable state of the book market” to live another day.

    Law-givers create trends, disciples only emulate!

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  6. People have always said that the publishing industry is in a lamentable state. Barabbas was a publisher, etc.; and besides, the UK has never been much of a book-buying nation. In my experience, the present troubles come down to three things. First, the book is seen as a surefire marketing tool, which means that each year thousands of ideas more suited to expression in other media end up being shoved out as books whereas they'd do better as letters, pamphlets, lectures, websites, etc. Authors should admit that their egos - "Have you read my book?" "Er, er ..." - are partly though far from entirely to blame.

    Second, the rotary offset press and the whole system that is now based on it means that authors cannot publish themselves (even on a collective basis, unless they are very rich or insane), print-runs cannot be fine-tuned or easily topped up, warehouses are crammed with millions of overstocks which are routinely destroyed. No just-in-time, on-demand printing technology means that serious, worthwhile books with a solid but small readership are hard to impossible for mainstream publishers to deal with.

    Third, publishing has never provided much of a living to the majority of those involved in it and that's even truer now. The best and the brightest look elsewhere and even those who can afford to put up with the awful wages aren't going to slog through 70-hour weeks for all that long. Most of the pot goes to a few agents, a few salesmen and the expense accounts of a handful of psychopaths - sorry, top publishing executives.

    I don't pretend to know what the answer is. However, just-in-time, on-demand printing run by small collectives and sold via the internet would certainly remove some power from the chains and their swingeing marketing demands. The technology does exist in basic form, but it's far from fully ready imho and, of course, the industry sees it as a threat and is primed against it. As most books sell what they sell despite or even in the absence of the publisher's marketing efforts, the marketing demands from the chains are really just robbery.

    Richard and Judy may help to shift a fairly narrow range of product, but I'm not convinced that they really helping the art and craft of writing - that small word publishers so rarely mention. So, in the end, Richard and Judy are just another industry marketing demand; and unless you are on their list, that demand becomes an overhead. Let's say, a ten per cent reduction on your next advance. Cheers!

  7. It's a sickening state of affairs, one i've dealt with by assuming all modern books are crap, and restricting my reading to pre-1950s. i've read too many glowing book reviews for novels that are at best okay.

    There are some good contemporary-ish books, it's just damned hard to separate the wheat from the chaff: the chaff is often backed by marketing, Richard & Judy, the old pals' network of reciprocally good book reviews; and the wheat either never gets past the slushpile, or dies on the vine due to lack of marketing.

    If i may make a suggestion, why don't you have your own Bryan & Nige version of R & J's bookclub? A book once a month? i say this as i really enjoyed The Peregrine, which i bought after Bryan's post on it a while back.

    i realise you must have loads of novelist friends who would instantly suggest/demand their latest appear on the Bryan & Nige bookclub, but perhaps if you pretend the books are chosen by some fictive manager/thug, let's call him "Denzel", you could back out without offending your friends? - "sorry, X, you know I'd love to push your book, but Denzel tore it to pieces with his bare hands, and said he'd do the same to me if I dared write about it. He also said it had too many semi-colons, and apparently you should have more malevolent dwarves, and shorter chapters. So I can't."

    i routinely excuse my behaviour at work by blaming fictive managers in other departments, i usually call them "Jeffries" or "Lucas".

  8. Brilliant, Elberry, itmight just work.