Monday, March 21, 2005

The dead hand of subsidy

Joel Rickett's latest round-up of news from the UK publishing industry reports that, 'since 2002, the UK Arts Council has paid out some £5.4m to literary causes: publishers specialising in translated, regional or ethnic minority books, festivals, literacy groups and poetry presses. But after the government's tough budget settlement, it will close its doors to new funding applications. The current "literary portfolio" will continue to be supported; other hopefuls will have to wait until 2008 before they can apply.'

Well thank God for that, anyway. What a pity that the government didn't have the balls to get out of literary affairs altogether; with the possible exception of 'literacy groups', which sound as if they might be useful, government has no business meddling in publishing. If money is to be spent on books, I'd much rather spend it myself, thank you, rather than have the government spend it on my behalf.

If a business can't survive without subsidy, tough. It's not as if huge money is required: these days, you can start a publishing company with almost zero capital (see, for example, my own small press, Kingsfield Publications, which has cost me less than a week's holiday somewhere warm). Of course, what you can't do is copy the big four or five and spend £100,000 on advertising. But with the right book, and access to the internet, you can certainly find readers and you can get books into libraries.

The real problem with subsidy is that it encourages writers (and artists, actors, et cetera) to futher indulge in the me-me-me philosophy to which they are already too much inclined. Creative people need to be encouraged to think far more about their audience's needs, and far less about their own preoccupations. Subsidy does the precise opposite.

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