Dog-Eared and Dispatched: October 12, 2013It’s been one wacky week in the wild world of book culture, literary citizens. Andrew “The Jackel” Wylie kicked us off by calling Amazon on its publishing bluff and tendencies toward megalomania. Meanwhile, industry insiders debated just what it means to be a publisher in the digital age during this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. And while we’re on the subject of books, McDonald’s would like to chime in, with the fast food chain unveiling their two-year publishing initiative and the new design of the Happy Meal. Finally, we end this week’s recap with congratulations to Alice Munro, the 82-year-old author who will be wrapping up her long and celebrated career as a short story writer with the Nobel Prize in Literature.
On Monday, October 7, New Republic‘s interview with literary agent extraordinaire Andrew Wylie went live. Referred to as “The Jackel” for his tendency to ruthlessly poach other agents’ authors and thereby gather an impressive clientele (Amis, Nabokov, Bellow, Rushdie, Roth—to name only a few), Wylie is nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to riding the waves of the publishing current. Thus, when Wylie launched his own publishing initiative, Odyssey Editions , in 2010, his choice to collaborate with Amazon wasn’t overly surprising. According to New Republic‘s Laura Bennett, Wylie’s alliance with the massive online retailer “was an attempt to pressure publishing houses to offer higher e-royalties to his authors, but after Random House refused to do business with the Wylie Agency, he backed down. ” Fast-forward to today—when the Apple vs. DOJ case has publishers all the more worried about Amazon’s imminent takeover—and Wylie, as calm as ever, appears more open and critical in his commentary about Amazon. “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,” Wylie told Bennett. Comparing Amazon to Napoleon , Wylie went on to say that “[t]hrough 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.” [New Republic, The New York Times, The Atlantic Wire, Los Angeles Times]
Out with the piracy, in with the pricing—that was the word at the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair at least. Held October 9-13, the topic of digital thievery was all but absent at the conference, while the concern over book sales was an ever-present mantra. With the Apple vs. DOJ trial and Quebec’s recent price-fixing debates still fresh in everyone’s mind, many publishers focused on the potential devaluing of books in the age of online media. “Now that we’ve moved into the digital world and the point of sale is no longer exclusively bookstores, publishers need to be aware that books can be instantly compared on price against all media and all formats,” Publishing Technology CEO George Lossius stated. “Publishers need to be aware of the pricing expectations of consumers and be able to react accordingly.” Commentary such as this reflected the theme and core question of the conference: What is a Publisher Now ? “I think the trap in the discourse around publishing at the moment is that we talk a lot about disruption and how digital technology is disrupting publishing as if they are two monolithic entities that can easily be framed in opposition to one another,” Random House U.K. digital publisher Dan Franklin stated. “But the publishing industry has undergone disruption recurrently throughout the whole phase of its being.” Lossius was in agreement with Franklin, adding, “Personally I think the future for content providers is quite bright. We are never going to have more readers of content coming on the market as we have today. But at the same time, I do not think we are stretching our minds in terms of trying to understand what that increasing audience is looking to receive from us as content providers.” [Publisher’s Weekly]
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any crazier than they already are in the literary world, McDonald’s steps in to prove us wrong. The infamous fast food chain plans to become one of the leading distributors of children’s books this year , honoring National Literacy Day by placing 20 million copies of four original book titles into its Happy Meal packages during t he first two weeks of November. Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization, is partnering with McDonald’s during these sales, allocating 100,000 Happy Meals to “children who do not have easy access to books.” These self-published Happy Meal Books are the creation of Leo Burnett, the advertising agency in charge of the chain’s marketing efforts, and DK Publishing. Scheduled for delivery to a majority of the company’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants, the sales of these books marks the beginning of a two-year publishing initiative by the restaurant, with the production of interactive e-books to take place in the near future. [Publisher’s Weekly, GalleyCat, Appnewser]
82-year-old Canadian author Alice Munro woke up to a surprising call from her daughter this Thursday, October 10: while still slumbering, Munro had been announced as the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner. “I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win,” she told the Canadian Press. Obviously the Swedish Academy held a different opinion, naming Munro a “ master of the contemporary short story ” and granting her the distinction of being the 13th woman in history to receive the prize. Having produced 14 short story collections, Munro’s most recent compilation, Dear Life (released November 11, 2012), has sold 13,313 copies in hardcover and 19,655 in paperback; in total, 45,579 copies of her published works have been purchased this year. “When I began writing, there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world,” Munro explained in a statement released by Penguin Random House, her U.S. publisher. “Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe. I’m so thrilled to be chosen as this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient. I hope it fosters further interest in all Canadian writers. I also hope that this brings further recognition to the short story form.” Although she has frequently referred to Dear Life as her final publication, readers can find several of Munro’s previously published pieces for free online at The New Yorker. [Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times, GalleyCat, The Guardian, The New Yorker]