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Does American Publishing Have Too Much Influence on Global Book Culture?

american flag

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story features comments by Argentine-born Canadian writer, translator, and editor Alberto Manguel, who proclaimed at the recent Berlin International Literature Festival that “The [American] publishing industry has become, in the past 10–15 years, one of the worst and most dangerous things that has happened to the works of art and literature.”

Manguel is known, amongst other things, as being highly critical of the US. It’s unclear specifically to what he objects? It it the emphasis on digital publishing? That publishing focuses so much attention on bestsellers? Maybe it’s the global popularity of Twilight? Perhaps, it’s some combination of all three.

To properly engage with Manuel’s comments, we need more context, which we don’t have. But it is worth pointing out that if he objects to American publishing, he’s indicting more than just Americans: after all, most of the “Big Six” American publishers are actually owned by firms headquartered overseas.

With the Frankfurt Book Fair ahead of us next week, it’s important to remember going into such conventions without prejudices like Mr. Manguel’s.

Yes, Random House children’s division is going to be selling the rights to Modelland, a three part YA series that “that combines the fashion world with dystopian fantasy.” It’s author: Tyra Banks. It may not be the most highbrow series of books that will be sold at this year’s fair, but does this make American publishing “dangerous?”

Hardly.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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9 Comments

  1. Tom Hunter
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    People love stories. The best stories come from novels and–if you have written a few as have I–you know that it takes years to learn that craft. I am betting that Tyra banks has not learned the craft. So publishing is perpetuating a fraud and selling books that will likely suck, thereby discouraging those readers from buying another book.

  2. Posted October 1, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    It’s not only Tyra Banks; it’s Miley Cyrus,Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Dolly Parton, Ellen Degenerates, and on and on. C’mon, are you kidding. Writers? The editors and publishers take only one thing into consideration anymore and that one thing is: $$$ MONEY. There are NO good books being published by major publishing houses for this reason and they have no guts; it’s only the smaller presses who take chances anymore and the reading public well knows this–we’re not as stupid as you think-if you think-which I highly doubt.

    Peace,

    Keith G.

  3. Annalyce
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, Keith, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on one point. I believe there are good books being published by major publishing houses as I have a number of them on my shelf. Some of them are published by imprints within the big publishers, but the publisher is still putting money into them. Of course, your definition of ‘good’ will likely differ from mine. Perhaps, however, you are looking in the wrong places, expecting to see trash and so missing the treasure.

    As for big publishers taking less risks, that’s true. Unfortunately, the publishing industry, as I understand it, has been hit hard by the state of the economy. As books are usually bought with our disposable income, the money that’s left over after purchasing the essentials, publishers do need to be more selective if they wish to survive. It’s not a happy thought, but there you go.

    I do agree that Tyra Banks shouldn’t be writing, though. Modelland? Seriously? I think someone has taken the advice ‘write what you know’ just a tad too far. However, and do keep in mind that this is without reading their books, that Ellen Degeneres and Dolly Parton are in fact very intelligent women. I think they’re a little more likely to have the chops required for writing than most of your run-of-the-mill celebrity ‘authors’.

  4. Posted October 2, 2010 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    What non issues will critics think of next? What axe is Manguel grinding, and to what point? There will be bad books published, bad movies made, and bad music promoted by executives who think their projects will make money. Some times they’re right. Quality it not the issue. Quit whining Mango!

    Speaking of writing quality, what’s with:

    “With the Frankfurt Book Fair ahead of us next week, it’s important to remember going into such conventions without prejudices like Mr. Manguel’s.”

  5. Jack Kalpakian
    Posted October 3, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Given this man’s record, real news would be if he said anything good about the United States. There are many fields where publishing is concentrated in the UK, and there are centers of piracy in some countries that exploit linguistic incompatibility; yes publishing has many problems, being American dominated is not one of them. Manguel and many people like him blame the US for everything. I am sure that he will find a reason to pin blame on the US for soured milk and spilled maple syrup.

  6. American
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Regnery press. Nuff said.

  7. Tim B
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always assumed that most celebrity “authors” are using a ghostwriter. While this is sort of cheating on the celebrity’s part, it does let a person who wants to write for a living do just that.

  8. Sable
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Just to say that Tyra Banks, despite what the snobs among us might think, is a woman who managed to excel at her chosen career (I am not here to argue the merits or otherwise of modelling as a career), developed a hugely successful television career off the back of it with two highly rated television shows, one of which is in itself a global phenomena (Next Top Model is franchised worldwide), has acted in very successful movies (including Disney’s Life Size with Lindsay Lohan) and television shows and has managed to forge a business reputation unparallelled in the modelling world. Indeed in the business world Whi is Tyra Banks to be writing a book? Who is she NOT to be!! Earning in the region of approximately $30 million a year according to Forbes magazine, this woman, the first African American model to feature on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition again to fantastic success, can really do whatever she wants in business and her publishers will thank her when the money starts rolling in!!

  9. Luckysod
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Manguel is right, but it’s a problem that cannot be seen from inside the borders of the USA. It’s perhaps especially a problem in Canada, but to a lesser extent it’s true throughout the English-speaking world. Bookstores here, both brick and mortar and online, are filled to the rafters with US authored and published books, both fiction and non-fiction. It used to be that there was a tiny section in the major chain called “Canadiana” where you’d find Canadian-authored and published works. Nowadays, such books are shelved in the appropriate categories, but they are still sparse as indigenous publishers simply don’t have the marketing $$ to buy display space in the chain stores and there are precious few independent booksellers left. American branch-plant publishers have become pretty good at publishing Canadian authors, which has, of course, weakened indigenous publishers, but the proportion of Canadian books in stores is still a drop in the bucket. Bookstores, like TV and the internet, offer primarily an American take on everything.

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