Gloves Off in Wylie Agency Row

I said this morning that the announcement by the Wylie Agency to circumvent publishers and use the Amazon Kindle Store to publish e-books by their leading list of authors and the author estates they represent was highly significant. I said it may be the most important publishing news to happen this year. This evening, I’ll go further. This is a watershed in the publishing world, and we may be about to enter a highly acrimonious and volatile period. I hope this period is short and decisive and the shape, structure and future definition of what publishing and selling a book is results in a publishing community that is open, focused and stable.

But for now, the acrimony, gnashing of teeth and strategic positioning commences.

John Sargent is pissed off with Andrew Wylie and it seems he’s going round to his house to administer his black leather glove upon Andrew’s cheek in the most gentlemanly way.

“I’ll be knocking on his door shortly, asking him for dues to the AAP.

I am appalled, however, that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer. A basic tenet of publishing is that our function is to reach as many readers as we can. We disseminate our books and the ideas within them as broadly as possible. I understand why Amazon wants an exclusive deal with Andrew. They have asked us too for exclusive product, as has every major retailer we deal with. This is smart retailing, and a great deal for Amazon. But it is an extraordinarily bad deal for writers, illustrators, publishers, other booksellers, and for anyone who believes that books should be as widely available as possible. This deal advantages Amazon, which already has the dominant share in this market.”

John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan this afternoon on his blog

Sargent has a fair point in all this. If the Wylie Agency wants to become a publisher, they must pay their dues and play by the rules all publishers have to play by. Except, right now, the rule book is being rewritten every month and quite what a ‘published’ book is—paper or digital product—becomes less definable by the criteria set down by publishing lore.
As Sargent tramps up the path to Wylie’s door, he may already find Random House spokesperson, Stuart Applebaum, has already beaten him to the doorbell. Random House hold the paper rights to some of the titles being published in e-book by Wylie’s new Odyssey Editions. Applebaum told the Guardian UK today:

“Last night, we sent a letter to Amazon disputing their rights to legally sell these titles, which are subject to active Random House publishing agreements. Upon assessing our business options, we will be taking appropriate action.”

Random House have notably been the only one of the big publishers not to sign up to the recent Agency Model, already adopted by five of the largest publishing houses, to distribute and sell e-books based on a 70/30 split with retailers.
We are certainly experiencing interesting times. While large publishers like Harlequin and Thomas Nelson launch their own paid-publishing imprints; agents like Andrew Wylie become e-publishers; retailers like Amazon become publishers in print and e-book—and authors like Stephen Covey, Paulo Coelho, Harold Robbins (his widow) and JA Konrath do their own thing.
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