Tory Historian's blog: What goes around comes around

Posted by Tory Historian Thursday, July 05, 2012 ,

Tory Historian has been reading Lewis Stevens's biography of Rosa Newmarch, An Unforgettable Woman. Mrs Newmarch was a remarkable woman and is not as well known as she ought to be, though there are signs that interest in her career is growing.

She was at the heart of English cultural, especially musical life of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, wrote several important books and hundreds of articles as well as translating books, songs and opera librettos from various languages, particularly Russian and many analytical programme notes for the Queen's Hall Prom concerts and a few others. She was friendly with Sir Henry Wood, Sir Edward Elgar and  Sir Granville Bantock and many others, too numerous to list as they say.

It is hard to tell what Rosa Newmarch's greatest achievement was but TH would place high her promotion of Russian music and Russian culture in general, as well as the introduction (with Wood and Bantock) of the music of Sibelius and of Janáček. Enough there for several life-times.

What caught TH's attention among all these matters is a short paragraph on what might be called the vagaries of publishing.

Several of Mrs Newmarch's books had been published by Bodley Head (John Lane Ltd) but in 1912 its manager, Herbert Jenkins, decided to set up his own publishing firm and Rosa Newmarch, a friend as well as an author went with him. This is what Mr Stevens says (and his own style leaves something to be desired):
Herbert Jenkins was immediately successful with several popular works including his own witty and amusing series of Bindle novels, which sold well and established him financially, so that he could embark on more ambitious literary, if less remunerative, publications. Although Herbert Jenkins died in 1923, the firm thrived as a small publishing house until 1964 when it combined with another publisher [Barrie & Rockliffe], becoming Barrie and Jenkins. That was subsequently taken over by Hutchinson, which in turn merged with Century and later Random House. 
As it happens, Bodley Head was also eventually acquired by Random House. That paragraph sums up the history of British publishing in the second half of the twentieth century - a catastrophe many of us watched as it unfolded. Hardly any small or medium sized publisher retained its independence and the pretence that the various component parts of the conglomerates retained their own imprints was believed only by the very gullible.

What goes around comes around. Twenty-first century technology changed much of that. Indeed, even towards the end of the last century small publishers started springing up, using the ever more skilful desktop publishing methods; authors rejected by the big boys and girls decided to publish their own work and the words "vanity publishing" were used only by those big boys and girls. (After all, Herbert Jenkins published his own books, Hogarth Press published the Woolfs and their various friends and relations and so on. Nobody called that vanity publishing.)

Print on demand, e-books, kindle, advertising on the internet and through social media have all made the small publisher's life considerably easier.

Lewis Stevens's own book is published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd under its Matador imprint or, in other words, it was self-published because, presumably, none of the big boys and girls had heard of Rosa Newmarch and were no interested in her. A professional woman who has achieved a great deal but was not on the left? Pshaw!

As TH is a great book-lover, one thing remains troublesome. Will these books survive if only as many copies are published as are required immediately or if they are published only on the internet? One hopes so, of course, but it is a worrying thought. At the same time, it is a cheering thought: small publishers might become bigger but not too big. In any case there is now a far greater variety of publishers and publications than there were when the big conglomerates were conquering all.


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