Everyone in the book world has been buzzing about the controversial move made by New York literary agent Andrew Wylie, who according to book industry expert Jerry D. Simmons "earned the nickname "the Jackal" for a reason; he doesn't mess around when it comes to his clients." Wylie recently teamed up with Amazon on an exclusive deal to have the mega book retailer sell his clients' ebooks, bypassing the regular route of finding publishers for his clients first.
Some of the controversy stems from the fact that Wylie is the agent. His job is to sell his clients' works to a publisher, and many believe he has crossed some boundaries here. Questions arise like "Isn't this a conflict of interest then?" Is it fair for him to take a publisher's cut on top of an agent percentage? Will he? How hard will he work to sell his clients' print rights if he's investing time into the ebook venue?
While I agree this is a bold move on Wylie's part, I think it's also a reflection of the monumental changes that have occurred--and WILL occur--in the book publishing industry. Authors are jumping onboard the ebook train, independently and with their publishers. And I can see why. Amazon recently reported that ebooks far outsold hardcovers. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, reported, "Even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books." Everyone wants in on the ebook craze. Can we blame them?
Authors Guild has raised some concerns over the issue. They believe publishers were largely to blame for the dispute that has risen between Random House and Andrew Wylie. Random House has stated they will not conduct business with the agent until the issue is resolved. Authors Guild is concerned also about the exclusivity agreement, stating, "That the Wylie/Odyssey agreement is reportedly exclusive raises many questions and concerns. Amazon has, time and again, wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers or, for that matter, antitrust rules."
American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher also voiced his concern: "The issues sparked by evolving business models in the rapidly developing world of digital publishing are multifaceted and, at times, complex. However, from the perspective of independent booksellers one important reality is unchanged: Diminishing the availability of titles and narrowing the options for readers can only harm our society in the long run. That the Wylie agency has sought to distribute these works through a single retailer is bad for the book industry and bad for consumers."
Jerry D. Simmons, who has been in the publishing industry for nearly 33 years, has this to say about Wylie's decision: "Either way Amazon deserves a big place at the table for selling content in printed and digital format. However they are not the only game in town and teaming up with them exclusively is wrong. This means that any reader interested in an eBook from one of Andrew Wylie's authors must purchase a Kindle. The better choice for Mr. Wylie would have been a separate deal with Amazon, Apple and anyone else who distributed eBooks to offer those titles across the board."
I agree with Jerry, who runs a publishing company and WritersReaders. It is far better to have your books distributed through multiple retailers than to team up with just one--no matter how big that giant is. As a reader, when I want to buy books I want a choice of places to shop. I don't want to be limited to one store, one format, one experience. As an author, I want to offer my readers a variety of formats, as many as possible so that they have a choice. I would not want to be the author who has to say, "I'm sorry but you'll have to buy a Kindle to read my ebooks." I prefer to say, "You can read my ebooks on your PC, laptop, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, iPad, Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Sony...etc."
In response to book industry outcry, Andrew Wylie told the New York Times, "I’m going to think about it a little bit...we take it seriously, as do the authors we represent. This area of discussion and negotiation needs to be resolved."
I think that's a good idea. Take some time and think things over before jumping into the frying pan. While being a trailblazer in a new frontier is commendable, Wylie's exclusive deal could backfire on him. It could hurt his authors' chances of ever getting published by a major publisher. It could create tension for other author/publisher relationships. Wylie's day of "the Jackal" may be over sooner than he thinks. Or he could see such huge success that other agents follow his lead. Only time will tell.
For now it's safe to say that old models in the publishing world are just that--OLD. It's time for change, no matter how scary and unpredictable that change may be. Authors, literary agents and publishers must learn to adapt unless they want to be swept under by the tide of change.
Readers, what do you think? How would you feel if your favorite author told you you'd have to buy a Kindle to be able to read his or her books?
Authors, would you want this exclusive deal? Do you think there'd be a conflict of interest and that your agent would be less inclined to push print sales to publishers? Would it hurt your chances of having your books read by publishers?