Big Business Society

It’s not “Woke”, It’s Market Expansion

David Mitchell has a refreshingly good take on the latest culture kerfuffle:

The debate has inevitably focused on whether the publishers have been too “woke” in making these changes. Have they been soft, giving in to snowflakery? Have they betrayed the works of which they are supposed to be custodians? This is missing the point. Puffin said they made the changes so that the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”. How refreshingly candid. Substitute the word “enjoyed” with “purchased” (a process they’re presumably comfortable with) and we have the truth. There is nothing soft about making these changes at all – it is commercially ruthless. The recent announcement that the publishers will now keep the original versions in print as well is equally so: they’re frightened of the anger in the marketplace and are trying to placate all possible buyers.

Dahl’s publications are extremely lucrative. In 2021, his literary estate was bought by Netflix for £500m. So, despite the writer himself being more than three decades dead, his market share must not be allowed to diminish. Hence the major disadvantage that dead authors’ work previously suffered from – the fact that it dates – has been removed. It can all be rewritten. The huge plus of brand recognition that famous dead authors’ estates enjoy now has no compensatory downside. On the contrary, they can morph to suit the mores of any era – so much more accommodating to market forces than those pesky living authors with their obstructive artistic concerns.

Never forget – it’s a capitalist world, usually, someone is trying to make money.