Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Pushing the Boundaries: John Sutherland Glimpses the Future of Bookselling in a Punk Collective's Outrageous Outpourings

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Pushing the Boundaries: John Sutherland Glimpses the Future of Bookselling in a Punk Collective's Outrageous Outpourings

Article excerpt

James Gillray's Plumb-Pudding in Danger is a cartoon lodged in many minds. It caricatures a ravenous Pitt and Napoleon carving up the globe in 1793-an image for what happens after every great war. In 1947 the book trade had its own Yalta when British publishers established the "Empire Agreement" (later renamed the "Traditional Market Agreement", or TMA), an industry-wide pact that British houses would make no agreement with any American publisher which did not entail the "whole package" of rights to the 70 or so countries that formed the then British empire.

For 30 years the British book trade grew fat on its TMA cartelisation. The complaints from Australasia, Africa, India and Canada that their national book industries were being stunted by the concord were ignored. The winds of change finally blew away the TMA in summer 1976, but the foundations of its hegemonic protectionism survive in the continuing global dominance of the British and US book trades.

Today, carving up the world TMA-style would be as futile as eating consomme with a knife and fork. It's not the physical products: it's the culture. Looking back, one sees shelf upon shelf of books. Looking forward, what? Ten years hence, what will fill the socket where the codex, for half a millennium, has been?

A harbinger of the pseudo-book of the future is a work recently published in Canada by HarperCollins (a significantly supranational Anglo-American behemoth), The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. …

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