Say what you will about literary agent Andrew Wylie – a man who they call “the Jackal” and who has a Twitter handle named for his dark side – but he is a smart, savvy son-of-a-bitch. Wylie may be the Darth Vader of the book agent world, but his client list is INSANE – a veritable who’s-who of literati: Barth, Amis, Bellow, Bolano, Colum McCann, A.M. Homes, Rushdie, Teju Cole, PKD, Eggers, Kundera, Louise Erdrich, Orhan Pamuk. David Bowie and Bob Dylan, for chrissakes. But the really great thing about him is that even though he reluctantly partnered with Amazon.com to distribute his digital Odyssey Editions, he hates Jeff Bezos’ guts almost as much as I do.
Wylie gave a very candid and fascinating interview to The New Republic this week – and I encourage you to read the whole deal, but here are a few choice excerpts:
I am not one of those who thinks that Amazon’s publishing business is an effort marked by sincerity. If you are as clever as Jeff Bezos, you don’t do it the way he’s doing it. I believe that Amazon has its print publishing business so that their behavior as a distributor of digital content can be misperceived by the Department of Justice and the publishing industry in a way that is convenient for Amazon’s bottom line.
NR: What would it take to get you to sell a book to Amazon?AW: If one of my children were kidnapped and they were threatening to throw a child off a bridge and I believed them, I might.
If Mrs. Bezos had published her book with Amazon, I’d be more convinced. She seems to feel that Knopf is a better publishing company than Amazon. Her agent could probably tell you why.
This last one made me sit up straight. I don’t know how the hell I missed this factoid, but MacKenzie Bezos, Jeff’s wife, has had a novel published – not with Amazon’s new-era publishing model, but with the staid, old standard of literary prowess, Alfred A. Knopf. Fascinating. I wonder what that conversation around the dinner table was like.
NR: Do you feel as hostile toward Amazon as you used to?AW: I think that Napoleon was a terrific guy before he started crossing national borders. Over the course of time, his temperament changed, and his behavior was insensitive to the nations he occupied. Through greed – which it sees differently, as technological development and efficiency for the customer and low price, all that – [Amazon] has walked itself into the position of thinking that it can thrive without the assistance of anyone else. That is megalomania.
This next exchange… it’s great to hear from someone as powerful in the industry as Wylie, but I fear he may be pushing to the fringes of the tired, antiquated publishing model. I have no doubt that the industry needs to change – for one, as Wylie points out elsewhere in the interview, the pubs could just pull their books from Amazon if they find the terms unfavorable – but I just don’t think Amazon’s model of absolute conquering is the answer.
It’s not serious. They can’t get their books into any bookstores.NR: But what if bookstores carried their books?AW: It would be a different game. And if they hired a couple of civilized people. They don’t publish anything of any interest to anyone.NR: They do better with genre fiction, at least.AW: They can do all of that shit. Take over daytime television, too. They are deeply into refrigeration.
Anyhow, check out the rest of the interview – Wylie may be a madman, but he offers a unique and – dare I say – refreshing perspective on the state of Book Nation. The very fact that someone so Nobel-level lit-centric is still standing – and standing VERY tall – in this dark age when any dummy can “publish” an eBook & sell 10,000 copies says a lot. Let’s just say I’m glad he’s out there somewhere.