320 pages. Vox Pop. ISBN: 0975276344
Barnes & Noble and Borders are posting record numbers and Amazon masters the universe, but are we bookpeople their slaves forever? Monopolies and oligopolies have always been trampling the asserted rights of individuals whenever possible. Take for example copyright, once there was none. But today’s laws that protect the weakling authors are the outcome of centuries of battle.
Compare Google’s recent assertions about the violable nature of authors’ copyrights to the great Whig lawyer, Lord Camden who in 1774, successfully fought to destroy the existing tradition of copyright and combined Pope’s opinion of the generality of booksellers with his own aristocratic scorn of the man who made his living by the pen. “Knowledge”, declared Lord Camden, “has no value or use for the solitary owner: to be enjoyed it must be communicated…. Glory is the reward of science, and those who deserve it scorn all meaner views: I speak not of the scribblers for bread, who tease the press with their wretched productions; fourteen years is too long a privilege for their perishable trash. It was not for gain that Bacon, Newton, Milton, and Locke instructed and delighted the world; it would be unworthy such men to traffic with a dirty bookseller. When the bookseller offered Milton five pounds for his Paradise Lost, he did not reject it and commit it to the flames, nor did he accept the miserable pittance as the reward of his labour; he knew that the real price of his work was immortality, and that posterity would pay it.” -Frank Mumby, “Publishing and Bookselling: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day” (1954. London. Jonathan Cape.) 190-1.
By this argument of course only the rich could afford to write and publish! Yet, though Lord Camden won that day, authors ultimately regained their copyrights, as did those dirty booksellers, who were that era’s publishers. Perhaps Google’s modern-day attack on copyright is only a sideshow: the big battle today is over centralization of distribution and the consequent marginalization of small booksellers and publishers, along with the innovative, challenging, adventurous authors they champion. But here–as with copyright before–a change is coming: the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few are under attack from all sides. As authors once had to fight to be paid for their writing, today independent booksellers and indie publishers are fighting to be paid for our own efforts. No chain-store systemized attack on indie stores–with hourly-wages for those would-be indie booksellers forced by default into chains’ employment–can long endure. Wage slavery will lead to Rebellion; Masters of Capital, we’ll see you in hell.-Andy