When Amazon hired the novelist Ed Park as a senior editor in its New York publishing office in 2011, it seemed an unlikely match. Park—a member of New York’s literary elite who had worked for the Poetry Foundation, co-founded a literary magazine and edited The Village Voice’s literary supplement—seemed ill suited to Amazon’s algorithm-driven business.
The incongruity was precisely the point. By hiring Park and later giving him his own imprint, called Little A, Amazon signaled that it was willing to take risks on works with more aesthetic than commercial value. Park brought a patina of prestige to the company’s fledgling publishing programme, and he leaned on his literary credentials to attract authors to the new imprint. In the last three years, Park has published some 20 books and recently landed Amazon a major literary prize.
But now, in the latest setback for Amazon’s publishing aspirations, Park is leaving the imprint to join Penguin Press as an executive editor. His departure reflects the challenges that Amazon faces in a publishing ecosystem that largely views the online retailer as a rapacious competitor. Most bookstores—having been undercut by the giant retailer—refuse to carry books published by Amazon, a major hurdle as the company courts authors and agents.
And his defection comes as Amazon is struggling to maintain its standing with writers and agents as hostile pricing negotiations drag on with the publisher Hachette, and a growing group of prominent authors are lobbying the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for antitrust violations.
In an interview, Park said that the battle between Amazon and publishers was not the main reason for his departure, but he allowed that it was one of several factors that made the job difficult and ultimately led to his decision to leave.
And Park said that his pursuit of more literary fare sometimes felt out of kilter with the company’s largely commercial ambitions.
“There were times when I felt like what I was doing was a bit of an outlier,” Park said. “To Amazon Publishing’s credit, any book I felt strongly about, they let me pursue, and that kind of autonomy was rare in that climate.”
At the same time, he said, it will be a relief to pursue books he loves without having to persuade authors and agents to work with a company that they regard with suspicion. “I will not miss those obstacles,” he said.
Scott Moyers, publisher of Penguin Press, said that Penguin was looking for an editor to acquire more fiction for the imprint, which is weighted toward nonfiction. He said Park was an appealing candidate because of his offbeat and original sensibility, which could help attract new talent to their pool of authors.
“Ed’s very inventive,” he said. “You don’t see any trace of me-tooism or derivative thinking.”
Park, who lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and two sons, has been a fixture of New York’s literary scene for 20 years. After graduating from Yale with a degree in English, he earned his master of fine arts degree in fiction from Columbia University, then took a job as a copy editor at The Village Voice. His parents, who emigrated from South Korea in the 1960s and settled in Buffalo, were always puzzled by his literary ambitions, but have been supportive. He worked at The Voice for 11 years, editing its literary supplement and helping to establish writers like Sloane Crosley and Rachel Aviv.
He wrote fiction on the side, and in 2008, Random House published Park’s first novel, Personal Days, about restless New York office drones.