Criticism In The Conglomerate Era (Criticism LTD, Episode #11)

Apple Podcasts


Resonate Recordings

As mass-market literature has been consolidated into a small handful of publishing conglomerates, the critical work once done by publicity and editorial departments has been offloaded. In this episode we discuss the rise of literary agents and their function as critics [8:00] and the role of literary awards in canon formation and other processes of homogenization [28:00]. Finally, we ask, can criticism be a countervailing force against conglomeration? [60:00]

For transcripts, please subscribe to Matt Seybold’s newsletter.


Ainehi Edoro is Assistant Professor of African Cultural Studies and English at University of Wisconsin – Madison, as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Brittle Paper.

Sheri-Marie Harrison is Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies & Faculty Success at University of Missouri. She just published a co-edited collection, Jesmyn Ward: New Critical Essays (Edinburgh UP, 2023), and blogs about her reading lists at All Things Sheri.

Laura B. McGrath is Assistant Professor of English at Temple University, co-founder of the Post45 Data Collective, co-editor of the Culture Industries Section at Public Booksand the author of “Literary Agency.”

Howard Rambsy is Distinguished Research Professor of Literature at Souther Illinois University – Edwardsville, the author of Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers (U Virginia, 2020), and executive producer of Remarkable Receptions. He blogs about poetry, digital humanities, and much more at Cultural Front.

Dan Sinykin is Assistant Professor of English at Emory University. He is author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed The Publishing Industry & American Literature (Columbia UP, 2023). Essays related to this project can be found in American Literary HistoryContemporary Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, The NationThe New York Times, Public Booksand Post45. In 2021, he co-edited a special issue of American Literary History on “Publishing American Literature, 1945-2020,” & he is currently co-editor of the Culture Industries Section at Public Books 

Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, resident scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies, and executive producer of The American Vandal PodcastHe’s also co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of The Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018).


The American Vandal Podcast is delighted that Joe Locke and Circle 9 Records have given us permission to use Locke’s new album, Makramas the soundtrack to the “Criticism LTD” series. Locke’s quartet features Lorin Cohen on bass, Jim Ridl on keys, and Samvel Sarkisyan on drums, as well as Locke on vibes.

Tracks featured in this episode include Locke’s original compositions “Interwoven Hues,” “Makram,” “Tushkin,” and “Shifting Moons.”

And his arrangements of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”

Episode Bibliography:

Karl Berglund, “Audiobooks: Every Minute Counts” Public Books (October 5, 2022)

Clayton Childress, Under The Cover: The Creation, Production, & Reception of A Novel (Princeton UP, 2019)

Matt Flegenheimer, “Jenna Bush Hager, Progeny of Presidents, Is Now A Publishing Kingmaker” New York Times (December 21, 2022)

Claire Grossman, Julianna Spahr, & Stephanie Young, “Literature’s Vexed Democratization” American Literary History (Summer 2021)

Claire Grossman, Julianna Spahr, & Stephanie Young, “Who Gets To Be A Writer?” Public Books (April 15, 2021)

Sheri-Marie Harrison, “New Black Gothic” Los Angeles Review of Books (June 23, 2018)

Sheri-Marie Harrison, “Marlon James & The Metafiction of the New Black Gothic” liquid blackness (Fall 2022)

Sheri-Marie Harrison & Matt Seybold, “The New Black Gothic & Lovecraft Country The American Vandal Podcast (November 11, 2020)

Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, & Self-Making in 19th-Century America (1997) [Updated 2022 Edition]

Elle Hunt, “Legally Bookish: Reese Witherspoon & The Boom in Celebrity Book Clubs” The Guardian (December 12, 2022)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (PenguinRandomHouse, 2014)

Shehan Karunatilaka, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (Norton, 2022)

Laura B. McGrath, “Literary Agency” American Literary History (Summer 2021)

Laura B. McGrath, “America’s Next Top Novel” Post45: Contemporaries (April 8, 2020)

Laura B. McGrath, “Comping White” Los Angeles Review of Books (January 21, 2019)

Laura B. McGrath, Alexander Manshel, & J. D. Porter, “Who Cares About Literary Prizes?” Public Books (September 3, 2019)

Laura B. McGrath, Alexander Manshel, & J. D. Porter, “The Work of The Audiobook” Los Angeles Review of Books (May 16, 2023)

Cody Mejeur & Xavier Ho, “Queer Lives Are Not Side Quests” Public Books (October 14, 2022)

Nnedi Okorafor, “Africanfuturism Defined” Nnedi’s Wahala Zone Blog (October 19, 2019)

Jordan Pruett, “What Counts As A Bestseller?” Public Books (October 11, 2022)

Howard Rambsy II & Kenton Rambsy, “How The New York Times Covers Black Writers” Public Books (October 12, 2023)

Howard Rambsy II & Kenton Rambsy, “Quantifying Toni Morrison’s Reception” Remarkable Receptions (February 16, 2023)

Howard Rambsy II & Kenton Rambsy, “Toni Morrison By The Numbers” Cultural Front (November 14, 2016)

André Schiffrin, The Business of Books: How The International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing & Changed The Way We Read (Verso, 2001)

André Schiffrin, Words & Money (Verso, 2010)

Matt Seybold, Nora Shaalan, & Dan Sinykin, “Working For The New Yorker: Putting The Historicity Back In The French Dispatch,” The American Vandal Podcast (March 8, 2022)

Matt Seybold, “Jason Wingard’s EdTech Griftopia” Los Angeles Review of Books (February 23, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “The Golden Age of The Working Critic,” The American Vandal Podcast (August 7, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Hungover From The Bad Old Days of High Theory,” The American Vandal Podcast (August 14, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Ponzi Austerity in The Age of Cultural Abundance” The American Vandal Podcast (August 21, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Ponzi Austerity & The Monolingual University” The American Vandal Podcast (August 25, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “The Racist Interpretation Complex” The American Vandal Podcast (August 28, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “The Chicago Fight & ‘Criticism Inc.’” The American Vandal Podcast (September 5, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Politics & The Paracademy” The American Vandal Podcast (September 23, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Brittle Paper & The Blogossance” The American Vandal Podcast (October 2, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “BookTube, BookTok, Wattpad, & The Audible Creation Exchange” The American Vandal Podcast (October 12, 2023)

Nora Shaalan, “The View From The Fiction of The New Yorker Public Books (October 13, 2022)

Dan Sinykin, Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed The Publishing Industry & American Literature (Columbia UP, 2023)

Dan Sinykin, “What Was Literary Fiction?” The Nation (October 10, 2023)

Dan Sinykin, “The Sublime Danielle Steel: For The Love of Supermarket Schlock” Los Angeles Review of Books (August 3, 2022)

Dan Sinykin, “Cormac McCarthy Had A Remarkable Literary Career. It Could Never Happen Now.” New York Times (June 19, 2023)

Dan Sinykin, “The Conglomerate Era: Publishing, Authorship, & Literary Form, 1965-2007” Contemporary Literature (Winter 2017)

Dan Sinykin, “How Capitalism Changed American Literature” Public Books (July 17, 2019)

Dan Sinykin & Edwin Roland, “Against Conglomeration: Nonprofit Publishing & American Literature After 1980” Post45 (April 21, 2021)

Dan Sinykin & Lee Konstantinou, “Literature & Publishing, 1945-2020” American Literary History (Summer 2021)

Dan Sinykin, Richard Jean So, & Jessica Young, “Economics, Race, & The Postwar US Novel: A Quantitative Literary History” American Literary History (Winter 2019)

Richard Jean So, Redlining Culture: A Data History of Racial Inequality in Postwar Fiction (Columbia UP, 2020)

Richard Jean So & Guz Wezerek, “Just How White Is The Book Industry?” New York Times (December 11, 2020)

Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz, The Art of The Deal (Random House, 1987)