October 13, 2017

Andrew Wylie to publishing world: Diversify

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Publishers from around the world are gathered at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany this week to discuss the future of the industry. Among a number of high-profile speakers, legendary agent Andrew Wylie delivered his keynote address at a preliminary “Markets” conference on Tuesday.

Wylie’s speech touched on two buzzworthy topics:  globalization and diversity. According to Tom Tivnan of the Bookseller, Wylie warned of the current economic monopolization of territories by companies like HarperCollins, who’ve been opening offices throughout the world in the last few years.

Wylie said, “I do think the HarperCollins model is more bewildering than anything else. And the authors it has chosen are so ridiculous… No one else would want to publish them [globally]. Most of them are romance authors, right? But ultimately, what it does is take authors off the table in a lot of territories. God bless competition.”

For those unfamiliar, HarperCollins purchased Harlequin Enterprises in 2014, a sale widely regarded as evidence of the company’s continuing, global expansion.

As Roger Tagholm notes at Publishing Perspectives, Wylie’s been known for his hot takes before, so his comment on the legitimacy of romance authors should be taken at face value. “His nickname is the Jackal; it took a while for him to bite, and on this occasion it was delivered with a warm grin.”

Wylie also touched on the issue of diversity in publishing, albeit in a tone more philosophical than practical. Particularly in this time when the rights of individuals, communities, and the media are being threatened, Wylie’s message proved forceful and on-point.

Andrew Albanese’s report on the speech for Publishers Weekly includes Wylie’s comments:

“I think that autocrats and autocratic societies are doomed to fail. Why? Because the desire politically to enforce a single view of the world is inevitably destined to run afoul of the fact that a diversity of views is what we have,” he said. “People want more. They want to travel locally and globally, and to encounter different perspectives, because that’s the way the world is. This is the human condition.”

On the importance of publishing globally significant authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Karl Ove Knausgaard, Wylie said:

“I would say that minorities are the majority of the world, and yes we need books for them. Because their view is our view. It is us. It is what we see and how we see it. Not how we should see it, but how we do see it. We see things differently. The populist view is that we do not. There is no appreciation of another perspective. But that difference is what stimulates readers and sells books. And resolves conflicts. And helps us travel through the variable, enticing world.”

At a press conference after Wylie’s comments, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said the publishing trade hasn’t been this strong in “50, maybe 500 years.” According to this 2016 report by the editors of Publishers Weekly, PRH, through various imprints, published over 15,000 new titles last year, with over 800 million copies in print. With offices in the UK, Germany, Spain, and Latin America, PRH continues to be the world’s leading trade book publisher.

 

 

Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.

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