Interesting piece by Robert McCrum. Not sure I agree entirely with him, but there’s much to like, and a good recommendation or two as well.
There’s a lot that’s passionate and useful in Schiffrin’s anguished analysis. He is right to identify a healthy market as the key to a vital culture and vigorous democracy. His heart is certainly in the right place, but strangely, for a book entitled Words and Money, he never fully addresses the thorny question of “free”, as articulated by Anderson, James Boyle (The Public Domain) and Lawrence Lessig (Free Culture). I wish he had because this goes to the heart of the crisis faced by print at the moment.
Books, like newspapers, are an essentially middle-class phenomenon whose market is the self-improving professional. As a bourgeois medium, books and their authors depend on the cash nexus. Johnson went straight to the point with: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”