Inside the controversy in the Hispanic world over the works of Nobel Laureate Louise Glück
Fidelity or free market? A spiral generated by the very rules of the market only facilitates the creation of large cultural monopolies.
Rhetoric in the world of culture and writing has once again triggered by an open letter from journalists, and other culture professionals intended to function as a complaint over the news of the last few days. Under debate was that the American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2020, the poet Louise Glück, who decided to withdraw the rights of her work to the only Spanish-language publisher before the award had translated their rights for small print runs.
The eye of the hurricane was focused on her agent, Andrew Wylie, nicknamed 'The Jackal,' accusing him of aggressive practices. Wylie has several Nobel Prize winners as his clientele and iconic authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolaño, Phillip Roth, and William Burroughs. In general, his firm covers about 200 authors with strategic headquarters in several countries, such as Spain.
The readers responded indignantly to the post shared on social media, and the messages of solidarity multiplied. Manuel Borrás, the editor of Pre-Textos stated that "Agent Wylie has broken any moral code on many occasions. We are not his only victims. These are people who see culture only as a money-making machine and at any price."
For all these reasons, the open letter from the Buenos Aires Literary Translators Club, to which more and more cultural professionals are joining, calls for a relationship of loyalty and alliance.
It was only a few weeks ago that a similar event took place when Gigamesh, the publishing house responsible for the translation of Game of Thrones, announced that it would stop publishing the saga due to similar disagreements with George R. R. Martin's agent.
"The agent demands too much of us. There are risks that we cannot take," it said in a statement.
The message provoked a wave of indignation and solidarity from thousands of people on Twitter.
The picture behind the landscape of such polemics has several intricacies. First of all, it should be clarified that, despite the confinements in various parts of the globe, 2020 has not been a good year for any of the small or large publishers that have been forced to delay their own launches. That's despite copies already being in print and saved in their warehouses and in an attempt to at least try to recover the cost of the print runs.
This commercial strategy has a significant risk, and it comes in the contracts that contain clauses with an expiration date. If a book is not published on time or within a certain period of time, the author must be compensated. As a result, some large companies have been caught between recovering the investment and the risk of added expense of compensation.
In a scenario of economic languor, the safe bets of great prizes such as the Nobel Prize or authors like Martin, who are long-sellers thanks to a TV series, recover even more value. The second consideration lies in the large market that Latin America represents and the poor distribution that small Spanish labels have there.
For all these reasons, it is not surprising that agents try to increase the scope of their business with demands related to a great distribution. In the end, due to their own logistic proposal, only the great groups can assume the benefits, and concentrate their bets instead of risk during the economic storm. Sometimes the opposite happens in the science-fiction sector, when they opt for small stamps in the translation of new authors to the detriment of their subsequent distribution.
Thus, perhaps some of the conclusions of all this controversy, beyond blaming the agents, is a call to solve the Spanish blindness to the Latin market and the need for certain interstate pacts that protect the diversity of the editorial landscape by allowing more equal conditions and facilities for small publishers to avoid large, cultural monopolies.