Free Book Freak-out


I decided to jump on the bandwagon and address an issue that all the cool lit blog kids are writing about. Galley Cat picked up on the Literary Saloon post and Scott Esposito’s post about Chad Post’s original post about giving book away. [Insert gasp of disbelief here] This is the original quote that sparked the storm:

The core of this idea can be extracted from the commercial marketplace and actually be evidenced in the world of nonprofits. Most nonprofit presses receive funding from the government (state and federal), from private donors, from foundations, with the goal of offsetting the losses that almost always occur when publishing literary fiction. And in the nonprofit world, we usually don’t talk as much about sales as we do about reaching readers, about finding a way to cultivate an audience for a book or author outside of the traditional marketplace model. So the idea of someone underwriting a book that’s truly just given away isn’t all that crazy . . . and would probably “only” cost $35,000 or so, depending on how many you wanted to give away.

Note the phrase “would probably ‘only’ cost $35,000 or so.” Let’s dust off our close reading skills from college here, paying careful attention to Chad’s use of quotation marks, to uncover the real meaning. By highlighting the word “only” with quotation marks, Chad flags this word as sarcastic. Thus we can assume he believes $35,000 to be a significant amount of money, too much money to lose. While the rest of his arguments in the paragraph are valid observations of the publishing business, I do not think we can really read this as an earnest suggestion that nonprofit publishers actually give books away.

My two cents? Good job to everyone who responded to Chad’s idea with thoughtful consideration because there have to be more ways of making money and funding literary publishing than what we have going right now. Maybe nonprofits should pull a Radiohead and offer pay-what-you-want ebooks of their new releases.

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Author: Hannah Johnson

When I first came to New York City, I almost ran over Liza Minelli with my suitcase. Then I got a job in book publishing.

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