Matthew Stoller Misses a Goliath

AND IT’S A BIG ONE

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Liberal journalist, advocate, Harvard grad and all-around guy-on-the-make Matthew Stoller has written a new book about the power of monopoly and its threat to democracy– GOLIATH.

Except he seems to have missed a very big Goliath, one standing directly in front of him. His publisher! Simon & Schuster is one of publishing’s notorious “Big Five” book conglomerates.

How big are they? Take a look at this chart and judge for yourself:

http://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/

Be sure to scroll down to see all of it.

The chart gives only part of the story. The real clout of these New York City-based conglomerates with their many imprints is their influence over Manhattan media– the scores of publications both print and internet, from the New York Times and The New Yorker on down, which determine which books– which voices– are allowed to be heard in this extremely noisy society. 

Threat to democracy?

In some ways, the Big Five and their many appendages and fellow travelers are the biggest threat to democracy. The most pernicious, most influential concentration of power. All congregated on a single island.

matt stoller(Matt Stoller, looking smug.)

Matt Stoller well knows of course how dominant, how influential they are. Which is why he chose to publish his book with them– and not with one of the many alternative publishers out there. 

Such is the game and how it’s played.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

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Why Did They Publish It?

THE COLLAPSE OF BIG FIVE PUBLISHING IS ONGOING

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Call it a collapse of credibility more than anything.

James Frey may be the most egregious person on the literary scene today.

Frey’s 2003 best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was later revealed by The Smoking Gun to contain large fabrications.

In 2010 James Frey was shown by Suzanne Mozes of New York magazine to be running a “fiction factory” ruthlessly taking advantage of aspiring young writers.

Frey’s just-released novel, Katerina, is getting slammed by literary critics.

-Including by Ron Charles at the Washington Post, who says it may be “the worst novel of the year.”

-Including by Claire Fallon at Huffington Post, who states firmly that “James Frey Still Sucks.”

THE QUESTION everyone is asking is “Why does James Frey continue to be published?”

It has to be more than Ms. Fallon’s take that he’s published simply because he’s a white guy. There are scores of talented white male writers out there who aren’t landing big book contracts from Big Five publishers like Simon & Schuster. At New Pop Lit we’ve published many of them, including Clint Margrave, Jack Somers, Brian Eckert, Richard Greenhorn, Gregory YelnishAlan Swyer, D.C. Miller, Alex Bernstein, Alex Olson, Jon Berger, Michael Howard, Don Waitt, Wred FrightJoshua Caleb Wilson, and Elias Keller, to name some of the more recent names.

simon & schuster bldg(Simon & Schuster Building.)

COULD IT BE that giant book companies which are part of gigantic media conglomerates and insulated by layers of bureaucracy within Manhattan skyscrapers are simply unable to locate actual literary talent? Instead they take the easiest path: “Round up the usual suspects!”

It’s a top-heavy and feckless system worthy of collapse.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Collapsing New York City Media?

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: THE BIGGER PICTURE

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SOMETIMES things move slowly. Incrementally. Glacially. Ever see snails? They come out when it rains. They’re not moving– but they are. One minute in one spot. Later it’s in another spot, and you can’t be sure, really, how it got there.

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“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually then suddenly.”

-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
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SUCH is the case with the mighty edifice of New York City media. With every aspect of New York media: newspapers, magazines, publishing companies. You can’t see them collapsing, but they are. The New York Daily News layoffs were inevitable. There will be more layoffs at other Manhattan flagships. Many more.

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Why? Because the fundamentals are strongly against them. New York City is a ridiculously expansive place in which to do business– yet Big Five publishing and their many acolytes insist on being there. In the internet age when one can set up anyplace, there’s no reason to be on that narrow island or its environs– other than to have swanky three-martini lunches at Sardi’s while playing the role of Manhattan editor or journalist circa 1959.

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Taxes, rents, leases, staffs, cost of living– everything in New York City is hyperexpensive.

A recent cost of living index put out by the Council for Community and Economic Research put Manhattan’s cost of living rating at 238.6. By contrast, Detroit’s is 96.9.

Manhattan’s recent average cost of office space was pegged at $75 per square foot. Downtown Detroit’s? It’s risen to $20 per square foot.

Manhattan is a more appealing place to live, no doubt. But when you’re in competition in business, the arithmetic will eventually catch up to you. Glamor or no glamor.

It’s not just the where these legacy businesses are located. It’s how they’re constructed– top-heavy, vertical, overstaffed. Leaner, meaner, more aggressive upstarts will eventually destroy them. Hungrier upstarts– those willing to do most of their work rent-free at Starbucks, or set up printing presses in a basement. And eat at McDonald’s.

mcdonald's sign

The Ivy League prep school crowd inhabiting New York skyscrapers may scoff (or whine and cry when they lose their jobs), but it’s the way of the world. Always has been. Doesn’t look to change now.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Hard Truths

NOT A WRAP-UP OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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Some truths for both sides of the issue to ponder:

A.)  For the Anti-Junot Crowd:

While Junot Diaz was cleared of charges of harassment by Boston Review and MIT (the same animal), in large part for institutional reasons, it’d be naive to think they didn’t do “due diligence” beyond that stated. The scope of their investigation no doubt did extend beyond the narrow and stuffy walls of MIT. One has to believe they did look thoroughly into those making the accusations. They’re not speaking about this for their own (decipherable) reasons.

B.)  For the Pro-Junot Crowd:

Don’t think for a moment that Junot Diaz is not entirely a creature of that same elitist institution. And others like it such as his literary agent, Aragi; his publisher, Penguin Random House; and the Pulitzer Board, safely placed at the center of east coast institutional power at Columbia University.

Junot Diaz is not a free agent– and can’t be. These forces made him, and so he’s had little say on how any of this game has been played. (Though he’s likely maneuvered behind the scenes.) I’d wager others have dictated what he’s said– always making the proper statements, because he’s always made the proper statements.

I take responsibility for my past . . . This conversation is important and must continueI am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.

Perfectly the right thing (via a statement from his literary agent).

Instead of telling all concerned to go f— themselves and walking away. But that’s not how the game is played.

There are huge benefits but also costs to being a cog in the established literary system, part of its never-ending manipulations.

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THE ONE QUESTION no one is asking: Why is so much sexual harassment happening, from the very progressive men who declaim loudest against it?

Answers? Does anyone have answers?

-K.W.

(Be sure to follow this blog to not miss any updates.)

 

Who Controls Literature?

THIRD IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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WHAT MAKES the Junot Diaz controversy interesting is the way it illustrates an establishment literary scene that today has become thoroughly politicized.

YET WHO STANDS BEHIND this scene– and behind the controversy? Who controls literature and the presentation of literature, and political changes within literature?

When you examine U.S. intellectual journals you find many of them take strong anti-capitalist stances yet are financed by wealthy capitalists. A puppet show where the behind-the-scenes puppeteer controls all sides of an issue.

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Is this the case with the Boston Review?

The two biggest donors at $100,000 each are:

1.) Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron.

Schrier is a former managing member of Farallon Capital. Currently he manages an investment portfolio valued at $600 million. Cameron was Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Old Navy. They keep a low profile, but made the news in 2010 for selling a home in Pacific Heights, California for $5.9 million.

2.) The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This is a foundation worth $9 billion-with-a-b, managed by Walter B. Hewlett– the tax-sheltered fortune of the Hewlett-Packard business empire.

(NOTE that for Boston Review editors Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman there are good billionaires and bad ones. Until recently Elon Musk was a “good” capitalist in progressive circles, but for some reason has fallen out of favor.)
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SIMILAR SITUATIONS exist for most of the trendy literary publications on both coasts. Here’s a recent photo of the editors and backers of Los Angeles Review of Books. Several of the individuals in the photo are big money investors. What do those in the photo represent? Wealth. For such people, self-image is vitally important.

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LET’S NOT FORGET the big book publishers themselves, the so-called “Big Five” media conglomerates with attached publicity arms and media outlets, and the sycophantic literary journals lavishly promoting Big 5 books (The Millions; Electric Lit; et.al.)– all of them with progressive postures and all of them based in and around the imperial city of New York.

QUESTIONS OF TOKENISM

One of Junot Diaz’s accusers, Alisa Valdes, wrote a blog post about him, portraying Diaz as– among other things– “a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker.” This raises questions of tokenism– a term also used by the VIDA website in their petition against him.

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(Still from the 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men.”)

IF the standard affluent white liberal still sees minorities as tragic victims, then have Junot Diaz’s narratives– and his recent New Yorker essay about his past– fed into that sense of virtuous power? It’s a question which has to be asked.
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The world sees only the players on the stage– and not those who control the production. It’s like the 1961 movie “The Hustler” in which Minnesota Fats, top pool player, is seen as a dynamic, powerful character– until the end, when we see he has no real power at all; is controlled by the gambler who backs him. In the same way, writers and readers alike want to see only the authors whose face is on the book jacket– they seek no knowledge of how that book is made, and the many compromises made along the way.

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THE TRUTH is that all writers are tokens, in the sense that few have any real power within the world of letters. This is a point I made in the first part of this series covering this topic. In the recent National Book Foundation awards, most of the writers nominated and awarded were women and/or persons of color. It’s the face the book world (which sustains NBF) chooses to put on its product at the moment. From the standpoint of those behind the scenes, it means little– as long as they remain the ones pulling the strings. As Junot Diaz is finding out, the power of a successful writer is tentative, qualified, and can be taken away at any time.

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EVENTUALLY: “Ownership: Are There Solutions?”

-Karl Wenclas