I am, by and large, a market kind of guy. Although I don't have any illusions about the imaginary benefits of economics (see the wonderful Economyths), and don't believe that markets always optimize, when we're dealing with commercial trade, I think it's usually best to leave things to the market, because interfering simply props up products that aren't wanted or companies that are bad at doing their job.
However, there are lots of caveats to this. It can be beneficial, for instance, to subsidize a product that in the long term will be hugely beneficial but initially is restrictively expensive. Another situation where I think it's appropriate to distort the market is where there's a good company with good products, but they are struggling to get the exposure they need. This happens all too often in publishing. You can get a great book that never achieves visibility. Or a publishing company with an excellent track record that is too small to buy the attention of the bookstores.
One such company is Salt Publishing. They've produced a string of excellent literary novels and are even brave enough to publish poetry. But they are finding things tough at the moment, and are on the edge of going bust.
In response, the Salt authors and management have started a 'just one book' campaign. The simple message is if enough people buy just one Salt book, the company can be saved to carry on publishing its excellent works. So with some hesitation, I've joined the queue, and purchased a book. (In my case it's Elizabeth Baines' Too Many Magpies (I'm fascinated by magpies, and anyway I can't resist a come-on that says 'Can we believe in magic and spells? Can we put our faith in science?') which I am now awaiting with interest to add to the holiday reading pile.
This isn't a decision I've come to lightly. Salt first tried this campaign last year and got enough sales boost to survive 12 months, but are now in real danger again. I didn't take part the first time because I'm really dubious about much of the subsidised arts. I think, on the whole, that the arts ought to be able to stand on their own feet. (I don't include museums and galleries, which I'd class as education rather than art.) If I had Dave and Nick's budget axe in my hands, I'm afraid subsidies for the likes of the Royal Opera House would be among my first targets.
In principle I have sympathy for the argument that we ought to be subsidising struggling young artists who need some source of income before they sell things - but I don't see why that subsidy shouldn't come direct from people like Damien Hirst, and from the auction houses, rather than the rest of us - a sort of artists' graduate tax.
But I've come to realize that what Salt is doing isn't a subsidy. After all I'm buying an excellent book. It's more a viral marketing campaign, and I wish Salt all the best with it.
So don't just nod wisely and move on. Nip over to Salt's website (you might as well give them all the dosh, rather than sending a slice to Amazon) and buy a book now. Just one book. You never know, you may even enjoy it.
PS my copy of Too Many Magpies has arrived with a surprise bonus. It seems that if you buy direct from Salt by 31 August you get an entry in their raffle - see their blog for details.