This is a well-documented trend in trade publishing. From John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, pg 267:
One is that the publishing industry –the big corporate publishing houses together with the retail chains – have become very good at building brand-name authors and increasing the sales of each new book by the big-name commercial fiction writers, and this is crowding out the market. ‘It used to be you could find space for new fiction; now it’s hard,’ explained a sales analyst at one large New York house. ‘More big authors, commercial fiction writers –James Patterson used to do two books a year; now he’s doing six, plus a children’s book. He’s crowding out the space.’
It seems intuitive that figures like Zizek, Bauman, Stiegler et al would lead to a ‘crowding out’ in this way, as the rate at which they publish monographs vastly exceeds that of anyone else. But we need to be careful about this. As Jana Bacevic notes, we shouldn’t assume that celebrity academics are engaged with for their scholarship:
I want to argue that the appeal of star academics has very little to do with their ideas or the ways in which they are framed, and more to do with the combination of charismatic authority they exude, and the feeling of belonging, or shared understanding, that the consumption of their ideas provides. Similarly to Weber’s priests and magicians, star academics offer a public performance of the transfiguration of abstract ideas into concrete diagnosis of social evils. They offer an interpretation of the travails of late moderns – instability, job insecurity, surveillance, etc. – and, at the same time, the promise that there is something in the very act of intellectual reflection, or the work of social critique, that allows one to achieve a degree of distance from their immediate impact. What academic celebrities thus provide is – even if temporary – (re)‘enchantment’ of the world in which the production of knowledge, so long reserved for the small elite of the ‘initiated’, has become increasingly ‘profaned’, both through the massification of higher education and the requirement to make the stages of its production, as well as its outcomes, measurable and accountable to the public.
We could assume a crowding out at the level of attention and resource. After all, there’s only so many books people can buy and read. But it might be that people are not buying these books to read and engage with them. So what does it mean to suggest we see a ‘crowding out’ effect? A great deal more clarity is needed for such a claim to be meaningful. Furthermore, it might be that celebrity academics give visibility to other voices. Could a relatively unnoticed effect of celebrity academics be as intermediaries? As John Thompson notes of a figure like Oprah, from pg 272:
Faced with the bewildering array of books to choose from, a limited amount of money to spend and many competing demands on their time, many readers are looking for guidance: they are happy to turn to what they see as a trusted and disinterested source of advice to help them choose. Oprah is a trusted cultural intermediary whose selections reduce complexity in a saturated marketplace.
Do figures like Zizek and Stiegler bring other people to the attention of their readership? I suspect they do, though apart from contributing to the popularisation of Badiou, I’m struggling to think of examples off the top of my head. But this perhaps is the crux of my problem with Bauman. Not only is he publishing the same book over and over, he’s spending decreasing amounts of time reading and citing other people’s work. I find it occasionally interesting to discover what Bauman thinks about the last issue of the Observer he read. But when significant numbers of people are spending significant amounts of time reading these musings on a regular basis, something has gone wrong with the knowledge system.