Andrew Wiley, the megawatt literary agent publishing insiders know by the longstanding sobriquet “the Jackal,” is not the fan of Amazon he once was. Though he briefly partnered with the company in 2010 to launch a small e-books imprint called Odyssey Editions, Wylie's current stance on the multibillion-dollar company is far from friendly.
In an in-depth and highly quotable interview with The New Republic's Laura Bennett, Wiley argues that Amazon has entered the business of print publishing to mislead the Department of Justice into thinking it's something other than a digital distribution monopoly. “I am not one of those who thinks that Amazon’s publishing business is an effort marked by sincerity,” he said.
After comparing Amazon to Napoleon, Wylie said 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.”
When asked about why he ever partnered with the e-commerce behemoth in the first place, Wylie described his desire to champion authors: “I spent nine months talking to the publishing industry about the fact that digital royalties should be closer to 50% than 25. I got nowhere.” At the time Random House threatened to stop doing business with Wylie and his agency, so he soured on the project.
“I think we’d be fine if publishers just withdrew their product [from Amazon], frankly.” Wylie said, shortly after admitting that he is embarrassed to identify as an activist. But his knack for business is at the heart of his disregard for the company. “If the terms are unsatisfactory, why continue to do business? You think you’re going to lose 30% of your business? Well, that’s OK, because you would have a 30% higher margin for 70% of your business. You have fewer fools reading your books and you get paid more by those who do. What’s wrong with that?"
Wylie describes literature as a sort of boutique interest, using the luxury brand Hermes as a metaphor, comparing Amazon's relationship to literature with Walmart's to couture fashion.
Rather than being pessimistic about the state of publishing, Wylie tells Bennett that he's confident: “I think everything is going to work out.”