Today we have hundreds of publishers who have pots of money. Their books sell. They manufacture writers. God bless them. But there was a time when most publishers were responsible people. Publishers considered the best were those who changed society for the better, not worse, by selecting authors who had something to give to society.
A few decades ago, reading material available in bookshops was of some quality. Reading therefore made the man. Today most of our books are either the Made Easy series or commercial fiction. Class and classics are tending to become the exception rather than the rule.
Today’s publishing industry is marked by the following features:
1) It has no hesitation in acknowledging that it is a business and is comparable with any commercial enterprise. The first reason for accepting an author is that the author is accessible (and inviting) to the average reader. The average reader’s taste is hardly put to question.
2) The number of books of the highest quality will be greatly restricted so that every publishing house does bring out four or five really classy authors. These will be properly promoted so that they pick up a reading public and ultimately do sell. Thus each publishing house will boast of some worthy authors. But the vast majority of books, both fiction and non-fiction, which will be accepted for publication, will have base and basic features to touch the common imagination. This is an age of the common man; even the arts will be affected by this fact.
3) The cover, the blurb and the gloss are what make the book sell and these are given the highest attention. Sometimes the first few chapters, the first few paragraphs or even the first few sentences are vital for a book’s acceptance. There is little effort made by the publisher/editor to wait for the deeper parts of a book. The reader, they feel, may never go that far.
4) Writers are often coerced into writing books on established lines; either teach-yourself books or genre-fiction or books that will fit into categories that the reader will easily identify and choose from. The rare book of genius, emerging from an individual author’s imagination is viewed with suspicion.
In such times, it is natural that the author will be forced towards self-publishing, something that was earlier compared with vanity publishing. Authors will write, because to not write is unnatural. Maybe a time will come when the traditional publisher will run after the author who has self-published successfully, doing his own as well as the publisher’s job. The publisher is shrinking from his responsibilities in an effort to make easy money. In India we say that such things happen in Kalyug, the age of demons in Sanskrit scriptures.