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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

When Publishers Own the (Dead) Author on Facebook

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An interesting phenomenon I've just spotted on Facebook: major authors like Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens have their own verified pages - that is to say, pages confirmed by Facebook with the little blue tick as being "an authentic page for this public figure."

But who "owns" these pages? Follow the links from the About section, and you'll end up at Penguin-Random House's own website, where naturally you can buy the author's books. Evidently these pages are managed not by some altruistic-minded eager reader, but by the publishing conglomerate.

The content of these pages seems generally good: there is lots of community discussion and informative link sharing. It's not just a stream of posts inviting you to buy the latest Random House edition. 

Nevertheless, these publications do feature heavily - though since many of these are by imprints such as Vintage, which are ultimately owned by Random House, it would be easy to miss that the page owner is solely promoting its own works. It's also questionable that pages such as the Jane Austen are badged as being "maintained by Jane Austen's U.S. & U.K. publisher Vintage Books" when of course, Austen has many US and UK publishers, and indeed her works are available free via the likes of Gutenberg. 

The way in which Facebook presents such pages as being the authentic location - "authentic" carrying the whiff of objectivity - raises ethical questions. Is it right that a publisher can colonise the long-dead author, and piggy back on his or her identity as a sales route? If readers are landing on these pages as the top results on Facebook (which most would do, as these are the unique, verified accounts) are they missing word on interesting books released by competing publishers? How are the news feeds being steered so that what looks to be a fan site actually ties in with a wider publishing (and economic) agenda?

Of course, I've no objection to publishers using Facebook to promote their activities. Neither with publishers hosting fan sites for authors. But to hide behind the persona of the author, curating his or her historical identity in the twenty-first century, when the ultimate aim is presumably to sell more texts makes me uneasy. Is anyone with me on this?

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Posted by Alistair at 7:34 pm


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