So the buck doesn’t stop with call centres. * Reuters is outsourcing journalism jobs to India–just six at present in a pilot project, but this could be the start of a brand-new white-collar sweatshop era. Here’s why we’re in demand: “‘It’s a place where you can get people who understand English, understand financial statements, understand journalism and who are educated to a very high standard and eager to do this kind of work,’ David Schlesinger, global managing editor of Reuters, said in a telephone interview. They are also relatively inexpensive, he added.”
I have very mixed feelings about this. Yes, the Indian media pays its journalists pitiful salaries (don’t even ask about the pittances freelancers get) and yes, I know plenty of people who’d grab a Reuters job like it was manna from heaven. But the report also makes it clear that they’re coming to India to get the grunt work done cheaper: these blessed few won’t be interviewing corporate chieftains or covering the big business stories. More cynically, I expect that foreign media groups who haven’t taken a stand on the call centre outsourcing debate will be tempted to take a harder line if their jobs are on the line. Publishing, incidentally, has already experimented with outsourcing in India: that’s what Dorling Kindersley was trying to do when it set up a division out here, and it was followed (briefly) by the Encyclopaedia Britannica group.
Call me backward (what the heck, call me Ishmael if you like), but the Babu finds the prospect of being hired as discounted-down, dollar-starved, over-educated labour mildly disquieting. Just how disquieting depends on the difference between the relative size of what an overseas employer considers a pittance versus the actual size of a pittance out here. (Send all howls of dissent to email@example.com.)
What’s chilling is that this doesn’t come from yet another journalist inveighing against the cult of the big advance, but from W W Norton’s Robert Weil. “With all of the attention paid to bigness, advances, like sports stars’ salaries, have increased exponentially for the lucky few… Indeed, the advances paid for hundreds, if not thousands, of these projects are so extraordinarily large that the publisher is often unable to recoup the advance, much less break even. Thus, publishers gravitate all the more frequently to celebrity books and ‘proven’ bestselling authors, dead or alive, with huge audiences that can justify the advances that have been paid. The unending cycle results in a pattern of higher write-offs and the inevitable disposal of assets, as evidenced by the carcasses of more than two dozen publishers that have been relegated to literary junkyards.”
There were other victims too. “On July 30, 2003, the Wednesday after Mackay?s death, a copy of Jacob?s Ladder dropped through the letterbox of Calder?s Edinburgh flat. With the book was a note. ‘This is to let you know I am dead,’ it read. ‘I committed suicide on my birthday, Saturday 26th, because continuing to live with my lack of talent was really too squalid a burden to be tolerated any longer.’ Calder was taken aback by the book. ‘It was extraordinary,’ he says. ‘I have to say I found it un-putdownable. If someone chanced upon this manuscript in 100 years? time and didn?t know what it was, they would reach the conclusion that they were coming across a post-Dostoevskyan work of fiction.'” The book is being published. It should do very well, given what the media likes to call “the hook”. (Link via the incomparable Maud Newton.)
Girl, Interrupted: Anyone want to nominate the authors of The Nanny Diaries for the Bulwer-Lytton? This is how the introduction to their second–rejected–novel starts: “In New York City, if you are of any age, denomination, or race, and own a penis, you can say anything that comes into your penis-owning head to anyone, of any age, denomination, or race, who does not own a penis.”
There was an old smuggler who lived in a shoe/ He had so many children’s books he didn’t know what to do/ So he hollowed out their pages again and again/ And stuffed Mother Goose with crack cocaine.
* “But for 14 years, she said, she was a member of one of the country’s most secretive and powerful clans, observing its inner workings, its rigid social code, the quarrels among its members and, ultimately, its common front.” It kind of helps that her name is Carmen bin Ladin. At least, it kind of explains why the book’s a bestseller.
Caryl Phillips on the perils of translation: “My worst experience was with my first German publisher,” Phillips said. “The book was called ‘The Final Passage’; I really liked the title– a play on the middle passage– I was a little perturbed when I was handed the book and there was a parrot on the cover. The book had been renamed ‘Leaving a Tropical Island’.”