The fu­ture of book pub­lish­ing?

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - MIKE DO­HERTY

For a man who fore­tells doom, An­drew Wylie looks up­beat. There’s a glint in the lit­er­ary su­per-agent’s cool green eyes as he con­tem­plates a cru­cial time for his in­dus­try.

Should ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween pub­lish­ers and Ama­zon about e-book roy­al­ties “go south,” he says, “the whole cul­ture will go to zero, and we’ll end up with a Ber­lus­coni world of peo­ple in biki­nis jumping up and down on game shows.”

This would not be a good sit­u­a­tion — least of all for Wylie, who has built up a sta­ble of nearly 1,000 clients, fo­cus­ing on such big, high­brow names as Philip Roth, Sal­man Rushdie, Chinua Achebe and, in Canada, An­n­Marie MacDon­ald.

Since found­ing The Wylie Agency in 1980, he has res­o­lutely op­posed the cul­ture of the best­seller by con­vinc­ing pub­lish­ers to look at the long term, at books that might con­ceiv­ably be read in the decades and cen­turies to come — that is, if the bungabunga doesn’t take over.

And to en­sure this, the man known as “The Jackal” for his preda­tory prac­tices is now re­cast­ing him­self as the pub­lish­ing

Pbusi­ness’s un­likely saviour.

Wylie is both an in­sider and a rebel: He’s a Har­vard grad­u­ate who spent much of the 1970s hang­ing out with Andy Warhol in a bo­hemian Man­hat­tan demi­monde. Nowa­days, he’s a nat­tily at­tired icon­o­clast tout­ing the fu­ture of the printed word.

He’s con­vinced that old­fash­ioned lit­er­ary val­ues can tri­umph. Part of what’s nec­es­sary, he be­lieves, is to speak out against an at­mos­phere of “ter­ror” cre­ated by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice. In 2012, it sued six pub­lish­ers and Ap­ple for col­lu­sion in set­ting their own plans to sell e-books.

“The Depart­ment of ‘In­jus­tice’ law­suit was the most un­just, mis­guided, in­sane suit in my ma­ture life,” he says. “A lot of agents won’t talk about it pub­licly. A lot of pub­lish­ers won’t. They can’t have lunch with each other with­out a lawyer be­ing present to make sure they don’t say any­thing that could be in­ter­preted as re­straint of trade — oth­er­wise known as re­strain­ing Ama­zon.”

“What’s good for au­thors right now is that their in­ter­ests are aligned with pub­lish­ers, and that has not been the case for the last 30 years,” he says.

He points to the Pen­guin/ Ran­dom House merger as a way of build­ing up a company big enough to re­sist Ama­zon, and to Si­mon & Schus­ter’s re­cent “sat­is­fac­tory” deal with the e-re­tailer over roy­al­ties.

With more such deals, he says, “the business will be re­stored to health and au­thors can ac­tu­ally make more money.”

Wylie main­tains that the only way to get pub­lish­ers to pro­mote lit­er­ary ti­tles ad­e­quately is to con­vince them to pay hand­somely in the first place. And as ad­vances and roy­al­ties have gen­er­ally dropped in re­cent years, his agency has pros­pered by op­er­at­ing in many mar­kets.

For all the brouhaha over ebooks, Wylie says, they’re dis­pos­able: We al­ways re­turn to good old-fash­ioned books.

He dis­putes the con­tention of his client Will Self that dig­i­tal me­dia have led to the death of the se­ri­ous novel: “A num­ber of writ­ers have said, ‘We are at the end of the process,’ but I think that their feel­ing, which I re­spect and sym­pa­thize with, is akin to an Ebola panic in air­ports in the United States. Chances are, things are go­ing to work out.”

An­drew Wylie

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