Literary Agent Andrew Wylie: Amazon Like ISIS (Really)
I find myself oddly encouraged that literary agent Andrew Wylie, at his International Festival of Authors keynote, actually compared Amazon to the jihadist group ISIS. The vapidity and intellectual bankruptcy of anti-Amazon reactionaries like Wylie needed no further proof, but still, the reactionaries have a lot of money and media behind them, with full-page ads in the New York Times and Publishers Weekly; suck-up stenographers like David Streitfeld; and keynotes at all the major publishing conventions all amplifying their message. So in some ways it’s a good thing their rhetoric has become this nuts. After all, even people not particularly paying attention are likely to roll their eyes when ostensibly respected pillars of the Rich Literary Culture establishment start comparing a retailer best known for its low prices and dedication to customer service to a group best known for kidnapping journalists and murdering them by hacking off their heads on camera.
In fairness to Wylie, he was only being astute in recognizing that, to bring further attention to himself, he had no choice but to crank the crazy all the way to eleven. After all, he was up against legendary sci-fi novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, who claims Amazon is trying to “disappear” authors and “dictate what authors can write;” megabestseller James Patterson, who claims that Amazon is making a “perilous future of books in this country,” is putting “the future of our literature in danger” and that the future “has to be changed, by law if necessary, immediately if not sooner,” and is “attacking writers” and trying to “ruin their families” and is fomenting a “religious war;” Authors United founder Doug Preston, who calls an Amazon offer to join Hachette in compensating authors “blood money” but assures you he is “not taking sides;” Authors Guild (really Publishers Guild) president Roxana Robinson, who claims Amazon is like “Tony Soprano” and “thuggish;” Authors Guild pitchman Richard Russo, who calls Amazon a “half man, half dog” that delights in “scorched-earth capitalism” and “burying your competitors and then burying the shovel;” and former Authors Guild president Scott Turow, who calls Amazon “nightmarish” and “the Darth Vader of the literary world.” Plus a whole host of similar such fear words, all intended to occlude clear thought and whip up panic, all (naturally) brought to you by the most august members of the Rich Literary Culture establishment—the same people, doubtless, who would argue that books are so important because they encourage people to really think, to ponder and excogitate and consider issues, not just emotionally and reflexively react to them.
Actually, Wylie isn’t just competing for attention against the kind of mad rhetoric quoted in the paragraph above; he’s also competing against his own public nuttiness. As I said in a previous post:
When Streitfeld quotes establishment literary agent Andrew Wylie saying, “If Amazon is not stopped, we are facing the end of literary culture in America,” what mysterious force prevents Streitfeld from inquiring, “What the hell does that even mean? What, specifically, do you think needs to be ‘stopped,’ and how do you propose stopping it? How do you define ‘literary culture’? How, precisely, will literary culture—whatever the hell that means—be ended by Amazon?”
Anyway. Whenever I hear novelists like the ones above bleating about how critical books are to our Rich Literary Culture (often they forget themselves and credit not writers for producing books, but rather publishers), I remember that lovely scene in Shakespeare in Love, when Ralph, who plays the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, is asked, “What’s the play about then?” and answers, “Well, there’s this nurse…”
Or to put it another way, whenever I come across writers like the ones above bloviating about books being the very foundation of Rich Literary Culture and Civilization Itself, I imagine a pot farmer going on about how without farmers, we’d have no food. Well, right, maybe not, but… you’re not that kind of farmer, amigo. And not that we don’t all appreciate a good buzz, but maybe the “Without farmers, we’d all starve!” lobbying should be left to the farmers who, you know, grow actual food?
But I digress. Really, I just want to ask Wylie and company this:
What’s preventing all of you from articulating a straight-up, coherent, defensible, reality-based argument about Amazon? What’s with all the vague and amorphous fear words? Don’t you decry fear-mongering when you encounter it in politicians? Then why are you using the same tactics yourselves? You admire careful thought, yes? Then why is almost everything you say calculated to occlude thought rather than encourage it?
My advice to these people? Try to find your inner logic, your inner reason. Because now that one of you has actually gone and compared Amazon to ISIS, the only other way to continue to bring attention to yourselves is logic, evidence, and reason, on the one hand… or comparisons to Ebola, Global Warming, and the Third Reich itself, on the other. And even setting aside the far more important question of what’s good for the public, what about your own reputations? Even with as much intellectual dignity as you’ve surrendered with your hysteria so far, do you really want to cash in whatever shreds of it might remain to you? Books will be written about the revolution in publishing. Is your behavior to date really what you want to be remembered for?