I read a piece in the Guardian on 26 May, which said that Fire Songs, by David Harsent, who won the 2014 T S Eliot prize for poetry “the pre-eminent prize for poetry” had so far only sold 151 copies. Wow, I thought; I knew that poets were at the bottom of the ladder economically, the plankton of the arts, who mostly expect to be consumed for free, and could not make a living from selling poems even if they were fairly paid for what they produce. But to win a major prize, and then to sell only 151 copies. Wow.
But it wasn’t quite true. The Guardian then ran a correction: the 151 copies were of the new paperback edition, which had only come out in March; the collection had in fact sold more than 2.000 copies, they said. Oh well, that’s all right then. However, that left a difficulty: The Guardian is on-line, as well as in print. Therefore you can still read the article (about Simon Armitage), but you won’t now find the sentence about Fire Songs in it. I think that’s called redacting.
Mind you, 151 copies sold might be quite good for those of us who haven’t won a literary prize; might at least pay for the printing. The remainder go into the cardboard box labelled “To Be Opened Posthumously If I Suddenly Become Famous.” But why pay for poetry? It’s free, most of it, if you have a computer, which is nice for people like me who like reading poems. But bad for poets, or Makers, if you think that people who make things should be paid a proper price for what they make. At the moment ‘creatives’ seems to be the only word commonly used to cover all those who make things which are without a strictly utilitarian purpose, though I prefer the word Makers (cf William Dunbar’s Lament for the Makirs).
We can’t have a just system of exchange unless there is a system for charging users for the use of intellectual property and paying the Makers a just return. Sorting this out should be somebody’s job, and, lo and behold, there is a British Government Minister for Intellectual Property (bet you didn’t know that). I emailed her before the election; she appears to be in place still, and I have emailed again. When she replies (or if she doesn’t) I will let you know. In the mean time, Makers of the World, Unite!
Think about it.