You know who sells a lot of soap? Procter & Gamble. Do you think P&G soap is “the best”? or “the best” for the $? What is?
Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award. Roberto Benini did, too. FORREST GUMP did. DRIVING MISS DAISY did.
Have you ever said, after the Grammys or People’s Choice Awards or Golden Globes, “So-and-so was robbed!”?
Remember platinum records? Remember gold records? I don’t think you can play them. (Can you?)
Copyright ensures that when you buy a book, you buy a quantity of paper, glue, and ink. A book. You do not buy THE book.
The number of books bought and left unread > The number of books bought and read
Pharmaceuticals are advertised. Soft drinks are advertised. Books are reviewed. (Much more rarely, books are advertised.)
(1/2) Did booksellers adopt the pay-for-placement system from grocers, or the other way around?
(2/2) Why does it matter where a book is in a bookstore?
The New York Times Visual Art Bestsellers List.
(1/2) McDonald’s publishes lists of items that sell well. Know who reads them? Managers, assistant managers, regional managers.
(2/2) McDonald’s doesn’t think its customers care what sells well at McDonald’s. It does make nutritional info available, though.
The Domino’s Pizza Times Bestsellers List.
Probably the reviews of pizza toppings in the Domino’s Pizza Times would be pretty fair, I would think.
Friends posting pictures of lunches. Friends posting pictures of books. (Friends posting pictures of babies?)
A person’s feelings about “the media.” Same person’s feelings about “social media.”
Is review-as-jacket-copy more by way of product description or nutritional information?
“For the price of a cup of coffee, you get twelve great songs.” We still pay for coffee. (It’s too bad about music.)
We read books alone—why does it matter how many other people read them? Safety in numbers?
Is it that books have sell-by dates, but publishers don’t publish them?
The “Cultural Event of the Season.” The “Tour de Force.” The “Masterpiece.” The “Red Carpet Premiere.” The McRib is Back(tm).
The great proponents of copyright law tend to be corporations. The number of great artworks produced by corporations.
Capital is the great leveler: We all stoop to its level.
Doestevsky’s net worth. Melville’s net worth. Poe’s net worth. (Shelley’s net worth. Dickens’s net worth.)
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Keepers makes great soap, Nick? I’ll have to look for it. I’m a philistine when it comes to soap; I confess to using whatever’s the most heavily-subsidized when I’m at the store. The time when one could be an expert in everything is past, I think.
Exactly right. It’s safe to say the Domino’s Pizza Times would rate all the toppings “Wonderful”, just as oil industry spokespersons reliably find no need for additional environmental oversight. Even the appearance of objectivity is under attack, and almost everything, including and especially the book industry, is a commodity business. What do we do? Write it anyway. Someday those words will matter.
Thanks for the good thoughts (and encouragement), Michael!
A caveat, though: The Domino’s Pizza Times I’m imagining, an industry publication, would, if it wanted to stay in business, have to be at least somewhat discerning and even, yes, “critical” in its ratings and reviews. But then the DPT I’m thinking of would be rating toppings not on quality (what even is a “quality” Domino’s topping?) but on popularity, profit margin, cost-volume-profit, etc. Which is to say: its ratings would not be useful to the consumer, and would treat toppings as products rather than potentially nutritious or delicious edibles, i.e., food. Treating books as products, sadly, creates a similar apparatus.
As to your last point, (“Someday those words will matter,” which I desperately want to believe in), I would temper it with this sentiment, from Steven Moore’s introduction to Jack Green’s FIRE THE BASTARDS!: “A complacent confidence that future literary historians will sort things out is damaging to both writers and our culture. . . . Even when ‘forgotten masterpieces’ are rediscovered and reprinted, they are treated not as active artworks but as historic relics. . . . As Jack Green points out, ‘ the real job of reviewing [is] to see that great books are bought now & not, like the recognitions [n.b.: Gaddis’s THE RECOGNITIONS] will be, years and years after publication.'”
Can we split the difference to arrive at a complacent faith? Because there is admittedly no current evidence of any new renaissance(s), and yet tomorrow remains wonderfully unknowable. Relics which are today mere trinkets will be sifted for new insights when we have gotten over being afraid of their implications. We might even live to see it. I have to believe this in order to get any work done.
A few years back, Domino’s publicly admitted their pizza was “Bad”. It was a marketing campaign based on actual customer feedback instead of the internal “data” the company had depended on for thirty years, which they routinely massaged to make it say what they wanted it to say. My wife worked for Domino’s for over a decade, and the DPT resembled, during that era, an old Soviet Five Year Plan.