The Publishing Bailout: A Plea

This was a terrible, horrible, historically bad week for literary publishing. Random House restructured and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt laid off legendary literary editors and up-and-coming literary editors alike, and Simon & Schuster... well, we don't need a full recap, but suffice it to say it was bad. Real bad. Of course, it was bad for everybody; people aren't buying cars, or SUV's, or as many copies of US Weekly, and even Mark Cuban can't seem to buy a baseball team. Even so, the Detroit car companies are asking for tens of billions in support without compunction, and with the government having handed out what will amount to maybe even trillions to prop up Wall Street long enough for them to take yet another punch... why not the publishers?

So, President-Elect Obama, here's a plea for you to bail out the publishing industry. Bail out Random House, Houghton, Simon & Schuster, and stipulate they need to spend on poetry and fiction. Think about it this way: Tina Fey got $5 million for her not-yet-written book, right? I'm a first-time novelist shopping a book. Why not write into the bailout that, say, .02% had to be deducted from that offer to buy a first novel? That's $100,000. That's enough for people to take a novelist seriously; it's probably not even enough to effect whether Tina is able to buy Alice Fey, Tina's 3-year-old, a good Britax baby seat and a MacLaren stroller. Plus I can work on my Sarah Palin impression. It's mostly written, and the sentences don't, um, with the books and the publishing bailout idea having lots of, that's why we can maybe end up, with the money and the, the um, bailout.

And failing that-maybe GOP Senators will find this all too un-laissez-faire- why not find a bailout for the writers directly? Buy our novels, our stories, our literary criticism. It'll be cheap. For a total bailout of, say, $10 million- how this pales in comparison to the $34 billion we might give Detroit- at $50K a book, our government could bankroll 200 novels, poetry collections, short story collections (the poets would actually be happy with a tenth of that, so feel free to adjust accordingly). Hell, we'd probably even be willing to call a book of stories a "novel in stories" if that's what it takes. Sure, there will be the money necessary to actually publish the books, but how much could that be? Another $2 million? This is barely enough to make one office building green enough for Buckminster Fuller. And the writers, we'll make concessions. Maybe it won't have the same weight for us to offer to work for $1 a year like some CEO, since for too many of us that's precisely $1 more than we're making off our writing now. But give us a cheap bailout. We won't spend it frivolously. We'll be green. We'll keep on using less petroleum in our writing. We promise.

This was originally posted at The Kenyon Review Online.