THERE WAS A COVER STORY in the June 18 issue of The Nation magazine which was an assault on Amazon, with a clear worry over what Amazon is doing to publishing-- “The Amazon Effect” by Steve Wasserman:
How objective is the article? Does Steve Wasserman have an axe to grind? Here’s his bio:
Quite extensive, isn’t it? Steve Wasserman has been involved in every aspect of mainstream literature and publishing, from teaching classes at universities, to sitting on grants panels, to literary agent, to publishing. He’s the quintessential literary apparatchik; his extensive career happening inside the System: the Machine. He gives the viewpoint of the Machine. What we can judge from what he says is that the Machine is terrified, because their clubby monopoly on literature is crumbling.
The reality is that ebook writers, using outlets like Amazon, are creating the horizontalization of literature. They’re destroying a tops-down hierarchical and costly system which puts the writer at its lowest point. In their system, the writer looks upward at the tower as supplicant, and begs, “Please publish me!” Who actually gets published—or more, who gets promoted—in such a world has to do more with cronyism, connections, and school ties than ability. The System is no less insular and corrupt than were the top heavy bureaucracies in Eastern Europe during the heyday of the Soviet Union. The mentality is the same.
Of course the stagnant status quo publishing system, existing in high-priced Manhattan skyscrapers, is going to be undercut in price. If not by Amazon, then by somebody. Everything involved in the system adds layers of expense. Look again at Wasserman’s bio. You can bet that in every stage of his history, in every prestigious position he occupied, he was amply rewarded. As no doubt he is today as literary agent. Care to guess at his salary? It’s money that would otherwise go to the creators of the art. To writers! Not to the System’s arrogant priests.
The System at some point had to be streamlined. It was too vertical, too undemocratic, too overburdened by go-along-to-get-along bureaucracy to locate truly exciting writers. The apex of the System right now is: Jonathan Franzen, whose prose is as plodding and enervated out-of-touch as his bird-watching personality. Yet he’s the face of the established literary scene.
No one knows how this will shake out—but the shake out is beginning.