Tuesday, November 14, 2023


Being something of a cretin, and I don't mean from Crete, I had never heard of Andrew Wylie before this weekend, but now I am fairly in love.

Wylie is one of those intimidating sorts I might have known or worked with for a decade or so. But he's so obviously brighter than every one else, and his appearance is so forbidding, that I don't think I'd ever have been able to work up the courage to talk to him.

He was just interviewed by David Marchese in the Times. Not only did I read every word, and send the article to half a dozen of my friends, I also pdf'd the piece and saved it in a special file on my hard drive. 

Wylie might be the world's premier literary agent and though I read a lot, I'm not exactly literary and I've never been within a hundred or so blocks of any party Wylie would attend. I'm from Yonkers originally, a town so hard-scrabble it makes other hard-scrabble towns look Polident-ready. They don't usually let my type into fancy soirees. The first words of roughly 82-percent of the boys born in Yonkers in the late 1950s were, "Yo! Mariaaaaa!"

Despite all that, Wylie and I share some points of view and, I'm not sure how all this happened, are dismissive of many of the 
"O tempora, O mores" types of things Cicero decried nearly 2,000 years ago. Cicero never had to deal with either the Kardashians or the Golden Bachelor, but he was, like me, aghast when viewing the times and the customs. Who could blame him?

Though I am not a religious person, and have no belief in any higher power, at times I am surprised by the positive cosmic serendipities that happen when I least expect them. Like running into a friend you hadn't seen for years when you were just thinking about her. Or seeing an old boss on the street and he needs someone just like you for a tough but lucrative assignment. Of finding a $20 in a pair of jeans you haven't worn since the Reagan administration.

Somehow some force drew me to this part of Marchese's interview with Wylie. I started, as I so often do in media res--in the middle of things. The brutal parallels from Wylie's business to that of advertising are so obvious I won't even point them out. However, I do suggest, in addition to cutting out and posting Wylie's response on your computer or sending it anonymously to the C-suite of your holding company, maybe you read it twice before moving on and then once again every morning and before you go to bed.

My sense is that the publishing world used to be run and populated largely by people who liked books and were interested in literature, and now there’s a cohort of people who work in publishing who might be interested in data analytics, and they’re paying attention to spreadsheets and online search terms. Do you find yourself having to communicate differently with those people? 

I think that a number of publishing companies have brought in business people to help them in a futile effort to become more distinctly profitable. But it’s comical, because frequently these people don’t understand the difference between selling a widget and selling a good novel. The advantage that they bring to the publishing company is counteracted by the hilarious errors of judgment they make because they don’t know what they’re selling. It tends to be true that the best publishers are people who read books and whose primary understanding of the business comes from what they’ve read rather than from Harvard Business School.

Here's another little portion of the interview that you might want to think about, or at least think about thinking about.

Is there anything, in a longer-term, strategic way, that you find yourself puzzling over in the way that maybe 15 years ago you were thinking about authors’ digital rights? 

Not really. The battles have remained quite the same for a number of years. It’s all about the exaggerated favor that accrues to the distribution piece. I mean, they’re just a bunch of messengers. You don’t have to kowtow to Amazon. You don’t. And yet, “Well, how do we not?”

What’s the answer to that? It’s like your dinner party: You want everyone to come? The room is going to be packed. Or do you want to just have fewer but better people?

Again, parallels to the ad industry where we let social platforms control how we make the advertising we make and decide what to put next to it and how, not, to monitor it. The ad industry's mania for always-on and 'for-everyone-ness' will be our undoing. 

When I see expensive auto brands advertising with hip-hop music, I don't know what they're thinking. That music fractures my brain cells. It tells me they don't value me as an older person and they're forcing on me a "culture" that is not my own. It's as imperial as anything the East India Company ever did.

A final bit from Wylie on that.


We’re not supposed to look down our noses at pop culture anymore. Do you think that’s a phony attitude? Is there some defense of cultural elitism that you want to make? 


Not particularly. I suppose to a great extent I’m just guided by my taste, and that’s probably idiosyncratic and narcissistic of me. I’m not a person who would ever go to Disney World. There are a lot of people who do. I don’t necessarily think that they’re ridiculous. I just don’t share that taste.

I think there was also a time in the ad industry where we were guided by our taste and our minds. We were taste-makers, not trend-followers. And I think the industry and our lives were better for it. The by-products of everyone-wins-a-trophy-itis have given us legitimate vaccine denial, flat earthers, Obama truthers, moon-landing denial, election-denial and more. 

Following is not leading and we need to lead so brands can lead. 

Very heavy, I know. 

Call me elitist.

I'll take it as a compliment.

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