By Dave Hynes
Last month The Guardian compiled a list of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the Book World’. It made anything but dry reading. Rather, it revealed something of the seismic shifts the book world is currently undergoing through ‘the digital revolution.’ It also reveals much about the structure of the book industry and its concentrations of power. The top 10 is heavy on digital pioneers with Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, having the distinguished honour of being named number one. Google’s C.E.O Larry Page is at number three and newly appointed Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook at number 10.
Assorted heads of powerful publishing houses from the book world’s five biggest companies all make the top 20, with 23 publishers and editors being listed overall. Waterstone’s James Daunt is joint-fourth, Hachette UK’s Tim Hutchinson is fifth, Random House’s Gail Rebuck is ninth, Penguin Group’s John Makinson and Tom Weldon are joint 13th. The single most powerful agent is Andrew Wylie, at 14.
Bezos’ position at the top of the pile is largely due to the meteoric success of the Kindle. His influence at the summit of the list is further based on Amazon’s plans for a full-scale digital library service and the imminent Tablet, which Bezos has positioned as a forthcoming rival to Apple’s iPad. Amazon’s digital ascent in the literary world is as mighty as the river and rainforest of its titular inspiration.
Further evidence of the Top 100’s nod to digitalization comes from Larry Page’s bronze medal- he is; after all, ‘Mr Digital’ and Google are currently fighting venomous legal battles in its attempt to digitise every book in the world. The same goes for Tim Cook’s high placing. Apple in general and the iPad in particular have left an enduring mark on the literary world. Mostly, I think, this is due to their seemingly endless supply of Apps, which allow users to download various literary materials, from video readings to course notes. Apple has recently launched a celebrity-infused ‘Audio Book’ programme set to hit computers by 2012.
Still, this is not to express undue doom and gloom about the implications of the Guardian list. Unsurprisingly, authors are the largest single group in the top 100 and this is surely a good thing. Jacqueline Wilson, Stieg Larsson and Ian McEwan all take 17th, 18th and 19th respectively. Zadie Smith, Martina Cole and Malcolm Gladwell aren’t much behind either. Indeed, the number two spot is taken by J.K.Rowling. So authors still carry great weight in a world being trodden and trespassed upon by technology and big business?
Well, maybe not. Rowling is not so much at number for her ludicrous success with Harry Potter than the forthcoming launch of the Pottermore interactive website- where, significantly eBook versions will be on sale. Rowling and the aforementioned authors are also big brand namesthere are no literary voices with only limited commercial success in the Top 100, but perhaps that is to be expected.
Other surprises on the list? Jamie Oliver at number 8, yes, that’s Jamie Oliver at number 8! We (the readers) polled at number 100 (so we are important after all). Perhaps most surprising of all is that in 2006, when the Guardian first compiled this list, Richard and Judy Book Club creator Amanda Ross hit the top slot. Even television, then, seems to have been usurped in only five years by the new wave of digital technology. One wonders what the list might