June 15, 2004 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on June 15, 2004.
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A view of publishing, from France...
At least evoking the purchase of Editis by Wendel Investments,
[A large group of famous French publishing houses, purchased and conglomerated by the Vivendi Corporation during the 1980s, and then purchased from Vivendi by missile-and-airplane manufacturing giant Groupe Lagardère, just has been divested by the latter: sold now to Wendel Investments, a giant holding company with interests in just about everything except publishing... JK]
now we have the Cherki Crisis. Awaiting developments...
[mercredi 9 juin 2004, Paris (AFP): "The President of Editions du Seuil, Claude Cherki, announced his resignation today at the conclusion of a financial operation which conflicted, according to one of the leaders of the firm, Jean-Claude Guillebaud, with the 'fundamental values' of this traditional left-wing Catholic company... M. Cherki, who has led Le Seuil since 1989, is accused of having speculated in company stock, purchased at low prices from former employees... The departure of its president is a shock to this prestigious house of the Rue Jacob, which began in 1935... today it maintains 400 employees and a catalog of over 16,500 titles... 'We did not place this house in the hands of M. Cherki so that he might denigrate the heritage of Paul Flamand and Jean Bardet', said Guillebaud, literary director of Seuil..." (tr.JK) http://fr.news.yahoo.com/040609/202/3urke.html]
Nothing much is happening these days, in the land of publishing, enmeshed as it has become nowadays in the logic of finance. Not that once we didn't have a dream world of publishing for fame, renown, and the greats of poetry. But apparently we all have known too, and for some time, that publishing is "just a business", to paraphrase a former Minister of Culture.
But from "the business of culture" to "financial engineering" is just a small step. A sacred step. A step important enough to have scarred all of the industries of culture over the last few years -- and one which is called "neo-liberalism".
This passage has marked an end to long-term thinking, an end to industrial projects lasting over two or even just one generation, an end to employment tied to the quality of the product, to the capacity of the product to find those who really can use it... The only thing which counts nowadays is "immediate income", measurable in speculation in corporate stock, and in corporate mergers and acquisitions.
We enter an era of instability institutionalized as "system". This isn't Soros speaking, here.
And, in the short run, all this isn't doing so badly for modern publishing. That half portion of the 4.7 million euros gained by Friedland Investment, and allegedly kicked back to Claude Cherki, that's a handsome sum -- 65 years' worth of my own yuppie salary...
But the "realtime" of financial engineering is not enough. We have to add on to that the very, very long time-frame of capital returns. We have to return to the beginnings of the 20th century.
Yes, for over the long period which followed, we have increased the time for the "protection" of works (protection against whom, against what?) to reinforce this economy of short-term gain: the directors of portfolios of "copyrights" organized a culture market, along the lines of a financial market, well after the deaths of the authors and creators concerned.
In this new stock exchange of literary works, one can follow the rise and fall of shares of Lennon or of Disney, of Beckett or of Camus... and for that matter those of Mozart and of Bach, of Voltaire or of Hugo, if the new policies of "public domain free market" are put into place, per the wishes of Aillagon.
[Minister of Culture & Communication Jean-Jacques Aillagon. JK]
What is important no longer is the devotion to the publishing work, the rapport with the public, and the relations with the author... now it is the legalities of the financial arrangements, and of course the opposition to "pirating" by small users. These are changes to the publishing world, to its frame of reference, its purpose.
I understand Jean-Claude Guillebaud, author and directeur de collection at Seuil, when he writes: "I now understand the different operations of personal enrichment which Claude Cherki enjoyed here... I am dumbfounded. He claims that these operations were 'legal'. Perhaps. We'll see. But in the eyes of the employees at Seuil, those operations were immoral, and in absolute contradiction with the fundamental values in which we believe." (in Le Monde, June 9).
A white-collar crime, then: this has been for a long time a standard benefit of corporations, and of certain so-called public servants of the highest government administration levels. But until now it has not been an accepted practice of the publishing sector.
But one must adapt. Already the profession has become a truck driver's rough 'n tumble one, according to the bon-mot of Pierre-Louis Rozynès,
[Former editor-in-chief of Livres Hebdo. JK]
who has seen the enrichment of distribution firms on the backs of booksellers (dump the goods and pick them up again, that's what makes the world go round...).
But, don't worry, there are plenty of fine souls who will talk to you about the sacred right of authors to provide their value-added to the financial operations of armaments manufacturers, immersed in the jungles of trans-national multimedia publishing...
As for the takeover of creativity, by the financial world and the makers of cannons... wellll... this doesn't have anything to do with anything, Le Crosnier, you're getting things all mixed up...
Hervé Le Crosnier
Thu, 10 Jun 2004 18:26:03 +0200
Editor's Note (by JK):
"Market economics" has taken over in so many areas of life, nowadays. We use theories, and approaches, and mindsets, all originally designed for commercial business applications, in areas as far afield from "business" as the education of our young, the analysis of our politics, the provision of our healthcare, and the finance decisions at least of our research and of our abstract thinking activities.
"Decision theories", and ideas about "rational choice", which once had so much about them that was mystical -- that famous / infamous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline -- now come dressed in the precision of a corporate sales meeting marketing analysis, PowerPoint charts and all.
And they seem to be omnipresent... We find the economist's "equilibrium analysis" in our entertainment offerings, in decisions regarding our nations' international relations, and in the choices we are offered and which we make about how to care for our elderly and sick and wounded and disturbed.
Is all this really amenable to "The Market"? Are the decisions taken there really analogous to, much less directly determinative of, the analysis of our decisions regarding healthcare, and education policy, and the environment, and political choice?
Do "supply and demand", and "market competition" -- even as-modified somewhat by recent "market imperfection" research, per Joe Stiglitz -- really address the intangibles, of some of these situations? If Grandpa needs an expensive operation, do we deny him this simply because of his age -- because it is "not worth it", in our cost-benefit analysis of his condition and situation -- and if he is unhappy do we simply feed him Prozac, because full psychotherapy and lifestyle changes might be "too expensive", for "someone in his situation"?
It seems that there may be a divide, still, between the economic and the non-economic, even in the most rational of "rational choice", one which "market economics" does not span...
Hervé Le Crosnier, here, addresses only the crisis in publishing. He has done this before, eloquently and forcefully, in his frequent opinion pieces in the excellent biblio-fr French librarians' econference which he founded and still edits: for biblio-fr generally, see,
and for Le Crosnier on this particular topic see inter alia, there,
Le Crosnier, and France generally, once again put well a problem facing publishing -- publishing globally, perhaps, and at least in the US and UK and several other places -- that there must be other models available, besides the one of "market economics" which currently is leaving so much of what traditional publishing once provided so far behind.
Or are there? Or is all this in fact one product of a major paradigm shift, per Thomas Kuhn, which will see vast swathes of publishing's old domain -- academic publishing, professional literature, science journals, small presses, and so much else which cannot achieve a 10,000 copies printrun -- simply cut out entirely, and handed over to the new digital media? Remains to be seen... Or perhaps "something is happening here", already, and we just "don't know what it is"... In France they're finding out...
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