Almost all publishers are now just small segments of great corporations (think tapeworms), and like supermarkets and breakfast cereal manufacturers they are required to provide product that makes a profit. The smart modern way to make a profit is to tell people what they want and then give it to them. It's not difficult, it's capitalism.Jude the Obscure: frowney face, smiley face, frowney face.
And so, great news: Weidenfeld & Nicolson are launching a new list in the Spring. As a result of market research, which has brought us so much of value over the years, Weidenfeld and Nicolson have come up with 'Compact Editions'. Tag line: Great Books in Half the Time. According to their market research (quoted in a small note Saturday's Book's section of the Guardian) many readers are put off by the 'elitist' image of classics and by their 'daunting length and small print'.
'What is it about Anna Karenina and Moby-Dick that puts you off reading them?' enquires the nice young man running the focus group. 'Oh, they're elitist, of daunting length and the print's too small.' Or were there hoards of angry demonstrators charging through Weidenfeld's offices with placards complaining that they had been alienated by Tolstoy and Melville and demanding their right to buy large print bowdlerisations?
So in the first series of Compact Editions Anna Karenina, Moby-Dick along with David Copperfield, The Mill on the Floss, Vanity Fair and Wives and Daughters will be 'sympathetically edited' down to fewer than 400 pages. But don't fret - so sympathetic are these editors that they will keep the central plot, characters and historical background. Pity really, I could get quite excited about a 21st century Anna Karenina set in Chislehurst and renamed Paige Simkins (she doesn't die in the end - the train's cancelled on account of engineering works).
Beloved: frowney face, frowney face, smiley face.
Tristram Shandy: smiley face, winking face, smiley face.
The Metamorphosis: frowney face, frowney face, frowney face.
I don't mean to exalt the old canon, just to note the continued destruction of history and human labor by the corporations. De-fund the libraries, take over the schools, turn the old books into baby food. No wonder nobody knows or cares about anything!