The severing of ties between publisher Random House and Andrew Wylie, one of the world’s most powerful literary agents, left many executives fearing the showdown over e-book rights would lead to the death of the 500-year-old publishing business as it is known. The split with the Bertelsmann-owned publisher was sparked by Mr Wylie’s deal last week to sell the electronic versions of 20 classics such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children exclusively through Amazon.com. Random House accused the long-time enfant terrible of the publishing world of “undermining our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors” and said it would immediately halt entering into new business with the agency.Wylie is known as 'The Jackal' in publishing circles, apparently, for his willingness to swoop in and scoop up good stuff that other people apparently can't be bothered to pay the proper amounts of attention. I don't care. He's my new hero. He sees where the industry is going and he's not afraid to forge ahead. See Odyssey Editions for some of the available titles -- when you click on the "buy for Kindle" link, you are immediately redirected to the title's Amazon Kindle edition page. The Author's Guild has spoken out on the issue, but their message is strangely disjointed. On one hand, they support Wylie's right to sell ebooks, but on the other, they seem to think it odd an agency would step in and do such a thing. To quote them: "A major agency starting a publishing company is weird, no matter how you look at it." No, not really. When you've been in the trenches watching the fight, it makes perfect sense, actually. Some publishers are kicking and screaming and seem to want to hop in a time machine straight back to Johannes Gutenberg's office. Authors want their books for sale in multiple editions, realizing that ebooks are not only popular, they're actually outselling hardbacks. Two+ years ago, my [CP owner Shannon Okey's] agent sent letters to all the publishers representing my dozen or so books, asking for them to be digitized and placed for sale on Kindle, etc. One did. I think it's up to two, now. So when you see your clients being thwarted at every turn and denied the chance to earn additional income (thereby earning you additional income, since you get a percentage), starting a publishing imprint at your agency is not weird, it's downright sensible. Random House has been the target of an awful lot of ire in recent months from the other side of this war (I lobbed a firebomb over the barricades myself when The New Yorker published some spectacularly clueless quotes from RH execs -- search that last linked post and you'll find them). But when you really drill down, you start to notice that Amazon is the company the publishers really love to hate. One of the major objections raised by the Author's Guild to Wylie's deal was its Amazon exclusivity. Well, let me tell you something as a small publisher: the competition sucks. Barnes & Noble's Nook platform is nigh-on inaccessible to smaller publishers, and I have a delightfully clueless form letter to prove it. We'll continue to sell and support .ePub-formatted books here at Cooperative Press, because the iPad and other devices use them, but unless B&N gets their act together soon, don't expect to see our ebooks for sale on their site. So where does that leave smaller publishers? We work with Amazon. They've changed their royalty structure to our benefit. They make it easy to publish our content. They have a giant userbase. Why shouldn't Wylie make a deal with them?
From yesterday's Financial Times: