Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Edward Bellamy on the publishing industry

Given that the my boss and mentor, the late James J. Kopp, was a scholar of Edward Bellamy, not to mention a collector of his works (collection soon to be housed at U of Oregon), I was pleased to come across this blog post by Kathryn Tomasek at Wheaton, who saw some interesting parallels between Bellamy's system of author rewards portrayed in his utopian novel Looking Backward and current digital publication schemes.
Bellamy described book publishing and the making of art in his utopia as the place in which a market similar to the world of capitalist competition continued to operate. Authors, for example, had to furnish the funds for publication out of their own credit. “He must pay for the privilege of the public ear,” Bellamy wrote, “and if he has any message worth hearing we consider that he will be glad to do it…. The cost of an edition of an average book can be saved out of a year’s credit by the practice of economy and some sacrifices. The book, on being published, is placed on sale by the nation.” In Bellamy’s imagined future authors set their own royalties, which were added to the cost of publication to yield the price of the book. If the book was popular and sold enough copies to support the author, then the author would be excused from service in the industrial army for as long as the credit lasted. A similar process in which subscriptions substituted for the price of individual copies of books provided for the publication of newspapers and magazines (Chapter 15).

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