MA Publishing student, Gabrielle Haigh, takes on the task of this week’s newsflash and considers the implications of Ed Park’s departure from Amazon for Penguin as reported by the New York Times.
In what appears to have been a bid to gain some literary prestige, Amazon US hired novelist, Ed Park, as a senior editor in 2011, and later gave him his own imprint, Little A. On its website, Little A claims to offer “the best in literary fiction from compelling short stories to risk-taking novels, where every sentence is an adventure.” The imprint is supposed to focus on aesthetic value, rather than big, commercial endeavours.
Mr Park, an award-winning novelist and former editor of the Village Voice, might seem like a strange fit for a company many in the industry see as a large, highly commercial and sometimes ethically dubious corporation; in fact, his position as a respected novelist drew authors to the imprint who otherwise might not have worked with Amazon.
However, Ed Park left Amazon last week and took a position as executive editor at Penguin Press.
His departure is another blow to Amazon’s ambitions as a publisher of literary fiction. Park spoke positively of Amazon Publishing, saying that they gave him an unusually high degree of autonomy to pursue any book he felt Little A should publish.
He also acknowledged, though, that it was difficult to recruit new authors, who regarded Amazon with mistrust. Indeed, some bookshops have refused to carry books published by Amazon or its imprints – a policy that makes authors wary of publishing with them due to fears about lost sales.
Park’s role at Penguin will be to acquire fiction for the imprint, which currently publishes more non-fiction books. Scott Moyers, publisher, said Park was hired partly due to his originality and offbeat sensibilities.
Little A will now be run by newly hired editorial director Tara Parsons, while Carmen Johnson will take over Ed Park’s position. It remains to be seen whether Amazon’s publishing operation will continue to succeed, as many in the industry regard the company as a greedy, commercial giant.
Hachette vs. Amazon; the Fallout.
The battle between Amazon and Hachette may have played some part in Park’s decision to leave Little A.
Although the warring companies have come to a resolution, Amazon still risks being seen as a villain and the enemy of other publishers and smaller booksellers. It will be difficult for the company to overcome this image, especially if the “Slow Books” movement becomes as strong as the current “Slow Food” one.
Then again, does Amazon need to be seen as a source of new literary books, when many already go to Amazon first to purchase textbooks, downloadable media and even bulk groceries? Perhaps the best thing it could do to improve its image would be to leave literary publishing to other houses.
As for Park, I am sure that he will find it easier to recruit new authors at Penguin Press, with its firmly established reputation and already impressive stable of authors. Perhaps he will enjoy less autonomy – after all, Penguin Press is hardly a new venture like Little A – so this may well be a fair trade-off.