Nicholas Chee worries that the great publisher brands of yesteryear are vanishing into irrelevance.
"John Murray, publisher of Byron and Darwin, is now part of Hachette, and has a list including commercial women's fiction. The news that the firm was preparing this list provoked the publisher Christopher Hurst, who wrote about his feelings to the Bookseller, to "nausea combined with rage". Hurst went on: "Why keep the illustrious John Murray name if they only want to prostitute it?" You might ask the same question of the owners of Andre Deutsch, where the distinguished editor and author Diana Athill once worked on the manuscripts of V S Naipaul, John Updike, and Jean Rhys. Now part of Carlton, Deutsch specialises in popular non-fiction such as showbiz biographies.
Does any of this matter, except to a few book industry fogeys? Not to most book buyers, who pay little attention to the imprints on the books. Not to the past publishers at these firms. Six generations of publishing Murrays are dead, and the seventh John Murray, who sold the firm, is philosophical about the transaction. Andre Deutsch and Allen Lane - the founder of Penguin - were publishing businessmen first, and pursuers of excellence second."
The reality seems to be that this sort of thing doesn't matter much in the short term, but allowing decades of history to be slowly wiped out will make it that much easier to keep whacking away at the industry as a whole.
It's what makes some of the more gullible amongst writers consider print on demand.
Of course everyone hears about the few that make a living at it, no one mentions the many that die fast and quiet.
Posted by Dave