There’s always been a rub between the necessary soul-gazing value of art and its general lack of commercial value, and the latest episode of the conflict is playing out at Granta, the prestigious UK-based literary magazine and publisher that has helped anoint the careers of esteemed talents ranging from Salman Rushdie to Martin Amis. Just after a splashy announcement of its “Best of Young British Novelists” list, the magazine’s editor, deputy editor, art director, and associate editor have either resigned or announced they are leaving. The publisher of Granta Books is also exiting.
The Guardian reports, “The situation was described by one insider as a ‘total shit storm’, and by another as a ‘complete bloody disaster’. It is understood to boil down to a desire by Granta’s owner to save money, as the company continues to make a loss.”
Booker prize-winning novelist and magazine contributor Peter Carey lamented the personnel changes saying, “I always assumed the owners were prepared to fund Granta out of love for literature. They got in good people and published good books, and underwrote a fabulous magazine – all regardless (obviously) of profit or loss – and then suddenly there’s this purge.”
As the recession shrinks resources causing more established writers to compete for grants and fellowships once the domain of emerging talent, and publishers feel increasing pressure to turn a profit in a hyper-competitive market that includes digital retailers and self-published authors/marketing wunderkinds, the tension between art and commerce is stretching to the point of rupture. It seems there is an annual threat to the libraries as federal and state funds directed toward the community gem shrinks.
As scribes, we have to figure out how to be financially soluble doing what we love, whether through new crowdfunding services specifically geared toward books/authors and/or demanding a cut of the ad revenue outfits like Google receive when they surface book results in online searches. We literally can’t afford to be naive about this. But as a society, we have to learn to start placing value on those factors in society that don’t have immediate ROI attached. We have to be willing to invest in arts and letters, understanding the long-term value they provide, not to mention the power they have.
There’s a reason imperialists and colonizers sought to extinguish cultures when they conquered peoples. When we lose control of the story and/or the means to create and disseminate it, we lose ourselves.