I was out earlier than usual this morning and decided to kill some time in the student canteen on the top floor of the building where I work. It was fairly quiet, and as I walked through the canteen I noticed that there were several copies of a book, ‘Wild Animus’ by Rich Shapero, scattered about on the tables. I took one, feeling the instant reflex guilt of someone suspicious about anything being given away for free. It’s obviously a self-published affair, but is quite nicely bound and put together, and not as amateurish as these things usually are. I haven’t started reading it, but judging from a quick sample of the prose-style, it’s unlikely I ever will. Still, as a means of disseminating your work, handing it out for free can’t be beaten, and I have to admit that there was something slightly exciting about all these books suddenly appearing early in the morning, as if they were samizdat, and as if the authorities were on their way to confiscate all that were left.
When I got home I did a little internet digging into the author – his website seems to be down, but there’s this slightly peculiar entry on Wikipedia, and I found this entertainingly scathing review from Pomona University’s student magazine. (I quite like the idea that when the ‘box set’ of ‘Wild Animus’, the book and the three CDs of music that are meant to accompany it, was distributed secretly around Yale, the suspicious packages provoked a bomb scare.) There’s another interesting blog entry from a few years ago here, and there’s a site dedicated to the book too – www.wildanimus.com. One glance will tell you how seriously the author takes himself, and his project, but I have to admire the energy and organisation he’s put into it.
He seems to have been at this for some time; the book was originally published in 2004, and if the self-publication, the self-produced CDs, the self-promotion, and the distribution of many free copies in campuses around the world, are all taken into consideration, then this must be costing him a fortune. There’s vanity publishing, there’s self belief, there’s delusion, and then there’s just sheer bloody-mindedness. I’m not sure which would apply here. There are any number of articles in the book-chat sections of the upmarket and trade press about the decline of the traditional publishing model, and how digital publishing and e-books are going to radically restructure the relationship between author, agent and publishing company. Rich Shapero seems to have found another way of circumventing the system, and at the very least the effort and expense he’s put into it is impressive. Perhaps I will take a glance through his book after all – but I’m definitely not going to buy the music to go with it.