By quietly supporting small presses and literary nonprofits, is Amazon backing book culture or buying off critics?
The Brooklyn Book Festival is just one of many recent beneficiaries of Amazon’s largess. According to a list on Amazon’s site, prestigious groups such as the PEN American Center, journals like the Los Angeles Review of Books, One Story, Poets & Writers and Kenyon Review, mentorship programs such as 826 Seattle and Girls Write Now, and associations including the Lambda Literary Foundation, Voice of Witness and Words Without Borders have all received grants.
While the dollar figures are not always announced, according to interviews and press reports, many recipients said they have received between $20,000 and $25,000. With the more than 40 current grants listed on Amazon’s site, this suggests the company distributes approximately $1 million annually to small presses and other literary-minded nonprofits. (Publishing sources confirmed that number, but Amazon would not.)
At a time when independent publishing is struggling to survive, in part due to the influence of Amazon, recipients say that these grants offer crucial — if ironic — life support. Sometimes the grants pad out thin margins of survival, and make it possible for worthy programs to maintain their tiny staffs. And there’s no question the grants support legitimately important work: Literature in translation, international poetry, smart criticism, youth literacy efforts.
If few Amazon customers know anything about the company’s growing charity presence in the world of literary nonprofits, this is by design. Since launching its grant program in 2009, Amazon has kept its efforts low-key. Indeed, Salon’s repeated requests to discuss the grant program with Amazon — or to interview Jon Fine, Amazon’s director of author and publisher relations and the man who distributes the money — were all declined.