On beer and books: developing the analogy
In an earlier post, ‘On beer and books: micropublishers and microbreweries‘ (3 Apr 2012), I explored a parallel between the attractiveness of the outputs of both kinds of micro-enterprises. I revisit the theme here in the light of an excellent post by Pete Brown on London Loves Business (10 Oct 2012): ‘From cider to lager, UK’s mass market misdeeds‘. Brown’s post concludes as follows:
So here’s my question. I firmly believe that Britain makes the best beers and ciders in the world. A still, dry, Somerset farmhouse cider, a sparkling Herefordshire perry, a perfectly conditioned pint of cask ale – there isn’t another country on the planet that could match these sublime drinks, the way we do them.
So how come our mainstream, mass market versions are so much worse than those you find in pretty much any other developed nation? OK, I’ve tasted worse lagers in Africa or Asia. But if you compare our basic, bog standard brands with their equivalents in the rest of Europe or North America, we always seem to have cut more corners, used more artificial flavourings and additives, appealed to a lower common denominator, and simply cared less.
I suggest the analogy between beer and books holds good at the large-company end of the spectrum. As I argued in my reviews of the London Book Fair (6 June 2012) the largest publishers are the dullest.
There is, though, a difference between the two industries. Whereas, according to Brown, the problem with the UK’s standard drinks is that the brewers add too much, the problem with large publishers is that they add too little:
Consider the ‘big books’ that large-scale trade publishing is organised around. They are published with minimal creativity. A publishing house buys the autobiography of a television celebrity or sports star. Great. The ghost-writer, the jacket designer, the publicist etc. all know exactly what to do – which is, in fact, not to be creative but rather to do the obvious. It’s the same if they acquire the latest novel by some well-established Booker candidate. Ditto. There’s nothing wrong with all this,of course – it’s just that it’s not creative. (‘Is publishing creative?‘, 15 Sept 2011).