The Sociability of the Crowd
Friday, 11 May 2018
In the eighteenth century they called it publishing by subscription, but now most people will say 'crowd-funding'. An author wishes to publish a book and needs to raise capital for the printing and distribution costs. Alexander Pope published his translation of The Iliad in this way in 1720. He judged, rightly, that he could best fund a major work by approaching his readers directly and getting them to subscribe. The commercial publishing industry was in its infancy then, and support from aristocratic patrons was still the premier choice, but in deciding to raise a subscription Pope managed to make all his supporters feel like aristocrats while keeping tight control over his work. It took him seven years.
In other words, between 1713-1720, Pope was working at his translation and his subscription list at the same time. People talk about the loneliness of the writer toiling at his task (garrets, despair, stale bread) but crowd-funding, or subscription seeking, is a sociable affair. It's obviously social at the level of contact: I've been in touch with people I haven't seen for years. But it's deeper too. Everybody who pledges joins a community of well-wishers; they make a community of well-wishing around the book. I'm sure Pope felt this and that it helped sustain him.
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