I rarely disagree with the Literary Saloon, but in this case I think I do. I am, in fact, somewhat startled that the Saloon would so readily concede to the assumptions of the "book-buying world," the very assumptions it normally dissects quite trenchantly, but that it appears to accept in this post.
I'm as little "in the know" about publishing practices as the Saloon confesses itself to be, except that I do know what mainstream publishing actually makes available to readers, and what it does offer, what it pines to offer even more reliably, is for the most part utter, 100% pure, laboratory-tested garbage. Agents play their duly-appointed part in this farcical process, although the agent subjected to the Saloon's criticism in this current post seems somewhat more conscientious about his own contribution to the "book industry," which is why I find the post rather curious.
This agent, Andrew Wylie, is particularly ridiculed for saying of Grace Metalious, the author of Peyton Place, that " Her name is now barely known. She wrote a book called Peyton Place, which is badly written, out of style, out of date, out of print, valueless. Her publisher has disappeared. The publishers of Calvino, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner abide. Who made the better investment?" The Saloon takes Wylie to task for the misstated "facts" here, noting that the book is still in print, her name still known, at least as the author of this book, etc. It even provides Amazon ranking numbers to show that Peyton Place still outsells Faulkner's The Town and Calvino's The Baron in the Trees (both from roughly the same era).
We'll put aside the fact that less than fifty years have passed since the publication of PP, not nearly enough time to measure success in the literary "long term." We'll also just mention that sales of Peyton Place have long been propped up by the existence of the movie adapted from it (and its sequel), as well as the television show. Finally, we'll not dwell either on the fact that no other book by Metalious will ever again be read by anyone, while the body of work by both Faulkner and Calvino (especially Faulkner) surely reaches greatly more readers than Peyton Place, and in the true long term will only outdistance Metalious by even greater numbers.
What surprises me most about the Literary Saloon's ruminations on this subject, however, is this disturbing claim: "Yes, we like Calvino's The Baron in the Trees better than Peyton Place, and think it's far superior, but even we would recommend a publisher publish (or re-publish) the Metalious-title before they tackle the Calvino. There's no contest: printing Peyton Place was -- and probably still is -- like printing money."
So even the Literary Saloon accepts the proposition that finally book publishing is all about the opportunity to "print money"? Perhaps this only ratifies the judgment that I am completely out of sync with the publishing times, am so marginal in my view about this that I can be safely disregarded, but frankly the last thing I would ever do is advice someone to publish the likes of Peyton Place, especially if Calvino could get published instead. To favor Metalious over Calvino is so alien to me I can't understand why serious people could even consider it, her potential as cash flow notwithstanding. It is tantamount to admitting that finally publishing books is just a species of commerce, and that literature only gets in the way.
I am by no means an ideological anti-capitalist. Capitalism is good for many things, but some endeavors ought not be cut to fit capitalism's trim. Health care is one of these. In my opinion book publishing is another. I understand that books like Peyton Place keep the "book industry" afloat, but that in itself is a profoundly sad commentary, and eventually this practice isn't going to work anymore. When the ability to read is finally so coarsened that even Peyton Place is too much for the "general" reader, the "book industry" will of course collapse. Book publishers might instead (but won't) concentrate now, before it's too late, on cultivating those readers who still take books and reading seriously. These are the readers who will continue to read Falukner and Calvino in the long run, and eventually might be the only readers left for new fiction at all. If Andrew Wylie wants to try and cater to these readers, please let him.