There seems to be a raft of ‘radicalism’ around at the moment – we’re waiting to see if the Labour Party will return to socialist roots, and in the publishing world the phrase ‘post-capitalism’ has not just been borne, it’s become trendy. And here’s the rub. Is it all just so much ‘trending’ for the usual suspects? Or is there some depth to any of it?
This new fashion for anti-capitalism (since that’s surely what this post-capitalism stuff is) amongst the political/ethical fashionistas is probably well intentioned but it seems somewhat naïve. And sometimes hypocritical.
I was recently alerted via a Facebook Post (where else?) to this book:
Economics After Capitalism : A Guide to the Ruins and a Road to the Future
By Derek Wall and I’d really like to read it. But it’s £14.99 and the ebook version is an eye-wateringly unjustifiable £14.24. But if you think that’s bad... when looking for a cheaper version I noted that you can also pay £50 to own this book in Hardback. NO WAY!!!
The fact that the publishers of this book are prepared to pimp it out at these prices makes me NOT want to read what it says. Talk about reverse psychology! Thus one totally incensed radical has to resort to ‘ranting’ on McRenegades rather than reading a book that might well have something interesting to offer. But I’m guessing capitalism won’t have been overthrown before this book makes it into the library system so I’ll just wait my turn to read it for free.
I have read, and you may remember reviewed, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason, for which I did shell out nearly £15 in Hardback, incensed by the ebook edition price of £8.54. While heftily unacceptable, this still looks like a bargain compared to Wall’s book.
In my opinion it’s a good book. One that many people should read, not just the intellectual elite. But you don’t need any kind of degree in economics (and indeed I don’t have one) to work out that until these people can get their books out there at a price that might be acceptable to other readers than the intelligentsia, I don’t see how we can take them and their ideas seriously. It’s all so much talk. And as my good friend Mr Ernesto de la Serna Guevara said on more than one occasion ‘words that do not match actions are unimportant’ (of course he said it in Spanish.)
It’s also clear (from my reading of Mason and reviews of Wall) that the authors don’t have the answers to the problem. You’re paying £30 for opinions then. Not everyone can afford to do this – after all, social media is awash with free opinion now, isn’t it? And though social media may be full of ill formed opinion, we can’t blame folk for not stepping outside of the ‘free’ comfort zone if they have to pay £15 a time for the opinion of others.
One of the strengths of the books is not that they give us a clear solution, but that they state the problems and shift the buck to us to work out how we can practically make this thing happen. This is a good strategy, but only if they get the message out much more broadly. You can’t preach grassroots change without being accessible to the grassroots. Which suggests to me that this whole post-capitalist fashion is at worst just an exercise for the Big Voices, and at best shows their complete lack of understanding of how the rest of us live.
It’s relatively easy to get mass appeal – drop the price. Yes, I know that the market is saturated with free and cheap, but you cannot make price a determinant of quality in the digital world. We are not in a classic supply and demand situation here. As Mason himself points out, ebooks are part of the ‘infinite supply’ economy. So you’d think that he (in tandem with his publishers who are in fact an imprint of Penguin) might be a bit more reasonable in their ebook pricing strategy. Mason may, of course, say it’s all down to the publishers, but isn’t that just an ‘I was just a foot soldier following orders’ type of excuse? Or perhaps Mason is actually part of the very system he’s criticising and doesn’t see any real conflict of interests in that position. That’s intellectuals for you. They can all talk the talk…
As people say these days on social media IMHO, Derek Wall as a good Green ought to be pushing digital publishing or at least Print on Demand publishing as cheaper and better ways of getting information out there. Charging someone £14 for an ebook is either insulting their intelligence or stating that you don’t think people should read ebooks. And charging £14.99 (or even £13 as they do from their site) for a paperback of less than 200 pages is also somewhat taking the piss -or should one say, an activity with an eye firmly on the profit margin. I’ve done the math. It’s possible to produce this sized paperback Print on Demand for around £5.50 including £3 on postage. So what’s going on here?
Pluto ebooks claim on their website that: ‘The revolution will be digitized.’ But they are a) selling on Amazon and b) charging the most ridiculous prices for this ‘revolution.’ It’s a revolution for the rich, not the poor in my opinion and maybe represents what’s wrong with ‘the left’ in general. More New Labour than Radical Left in my opinion.
Pluto Press may not be Allen Lane in size, but they are hardly a ‘craft’ or ‘niche’ publisher. They are now partnered with The Left Book Club. Again, on the face of it beautifully radical, they offer members 4 ‘radical’ books a year for £40 and the chance to discuss them in online book groups with other members. That’s very nice and cosy, but is it really outward looking radicalism of the kind we need to actually change things? Or maybe these radicals work on the principle that really it’s just the few who will actually ‘change’ the world, the rest of us peasants must just go along with their direction of travel?
It does not cost a fortune to convert a print text to ebook format. Print on Demand publishing is every bit as valid a model as the traditional one, and kinder to the planet, less wasteful for a start. So I’d expect ‘radicals’ to be flocking this way. Sadly, the capitalist model means that unless you can afford to get your message out there big-style, you won’t make big profits. You have to be able to invest huge sums to tell people what they want to read. Just pause a moment to consider what you think about that statement!
Big publishing houses like to make big profits. Capitalists endorse capitalist models. That's hardly newsworthy is it? But though I expect profiteering from capitalist organisations. It sits less easily with me when ‘radicals’ bed themselves down with these very organisations. Of course it’s a less than perfect world. However we rail against Amazon we all need to use it as a market platform at the moment. But I can’t help feeling that if the likes of Derek Wall and Paul Mason are to withstand wee bitching voices like mine suggesting there’s a mismatch between their talk and their walk, they might try a bit harder not just with their radical writing but by radicalising their means of production.
Forgive me for saying it, but paying over the odds for your radicalism looks to me like a kind of profiteering. But I’m open to debate on this one. What do you think?