In the March Harper's there's an article about last fall's Frankfurt Book Fair, where the publishing industry gathered to bemoan its recession-era fate. Will a world with poorer authors really make publishing more pure?
In Harper's, Gideon Lewis-Kraus says that the "mid-twentieth-century good fortune of publishing" that allowed highbrow writers to live a well-compensated life of literary leisure was an anomaly. So stop whining:
[Some say] contemporary late-corporate publishing is a fallen world in which Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada,gets really rich, while Richard Ford, one of the indisputably important novelists of our time, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Independence Day and The Sportswriter, gets slightly less rich. None of the elegists say: What is coming to an end is the idea that Richard Ford is going to be richer than Lauren Weisberger. None of them say: What is coming to an end isthe wishful insistence-for it is, ultimately, a wish, deeply felt, by a lot of people-that Richard Ford is going to be rich at all.
In other words, chill out, fancy literary types!
For if in the end the money disappears, and, sadly, it probably will, then so be it: there will still be a party, and maybe that party won't be in New York or in the displaced New York that is Frankfurt, but neither will the Rieslings cost 12 euros.
This argument shadows a grander argument, often unstated, that says: Yes, the money is draining out of publishing (and journalism, for that matter) but that's a good thing. Then people will only write for the love, and real writers will win, because they will press on, while money-chasing hacks will fade away.
But the book industry (and the journalism industry) isn't the music industry. Authors can't support themselves doing reading tours in small-town bars until that big break comes through. The people putting forth the purist argument have probably never had a huge student loan bill to pay back, or faced years working at Starbucks while writing that novel. Let's hope the money comes back for everybody. Even real authors are willing to concede all the Devil Wears Prada-s it takes for them to be able to get an advance big enough to make that grad school bill seem like a worthy investment.