Thomas Whiteside, The Blockbuster Complex: Conglomerates, Show Business, and Book Publishing (Wesleyan University Press, 1980)
Because it was published in 1981 and because there has been increasing conglomeration, among other changes, in the publishing industry since then, it would seem that Whiteside's analysis of the book business would by now be obsolete. Whiteside's cogent insights remain indispensable and relevant, however. "The trade-book business seems on the way to becoming nothing more than the component of the conglomerate communications-entertainment complex which happens to deal primarily with publishing books," Whiteside observes - a prediction that has become true. He uses as an example the fact that Harcourt Brace Jovanovich owned Sea World and that the investment group headed up by Doubleday purchased the New York Mets.
Those conglomerations fundamentally alter the publishing industry because they require editors - who used to be tasked with finding good authors and improving their books - to think like businessmen. "As time goes on, the language of the corporate merchandiser seems ever more a part of the workaday speech of book publishers and editors," Whiteside writes. Not everyone thinks that the change is bad, however - editors who are charged with making sales grow may find innovative ways to get good books in readers' hands.
Whiteside's analysis is comprehensive and even-keeled in the face of issues such as the one above that frequently raise blood pressures in the publishing industry. Whiteside, who used to write for the New Yorker - where most of this book first appeared - seems to have talked with every relevant person in publishing, from publishers, editors, agents, and TV and Hollywood producers.
The Blockbuster Complex is an absolutely necessary, pleasurable, and quick read for journalists needing to know more about publishing. The only shame is that it hasn't been reprinted and can be difficult to get access to unless it can be found in a university library (although at the time this was published, Amazon.com had 22 used copies for sale).
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