Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Must Resist This American Octopus

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Must Resist This American Octopus

Article excerpt

With the stroke of a pen at the end of January, some of the last bastions of what was once the British publishing industry were sold off to the Americans. Nobody took much notice because it was just a deal between large multi-nationals. Random House, the repulsive octopus owned by the Newhouse empire, bought up some end-of-bin firms from Reed, a comparably unsavoury tentacular creation. You still don't care? Well, Newhouse is American, and Reed is European (Anglo-Dutch to be specific).

Random House, an American publisher, already owns most of the titles you've ever heard of - Jonathan Cape, and Chatto & Windus, and Hutchinson, and the Bodley Head, and a handful of others. Now, from Reed, it has acquired Secker & Warburg, and Methuen, and Heinemann, and a few more besides.

These names no longer mean much except to the antiquarian, the historian of the family firm, or perhaps a handful of their employees. They have become just another piece of heritage culture. I would dearly love to have been published by MacGibbon & Kee but, though the wonderful men who dreamt it up survive, their firm has long since disappeared. So does it really matter if these tides are bought up by Americans?

It does. Behind all the debate about Europe is a rather simple choice. As Europe and America go their separate ways at the end of the cold war, do you want to be part of Europe or part of America? Simple really, yet most people don't like being faced with it.

Melvyn Bragg made a couple of television programmes recently in which, after doing a long mea culpa about how he had been enticed into the American camp over the years, he came up with the message, like someone escaped from the clutches of the Scientologists, that home's best after all. Or if not Cumbria, then perhaps Europe. Almost anything would be better than being sucked into America's cultural orbit for ever. …

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