Last week's news of literary agent Andrew Wylie's exclusive agreement with Amazon.com to publish Kindle editions of 20 backlist titles by notable writers represented by Wylie provoked strong reactions among some major publishers and elicited extensive industry discussion regarding the implications of this potential disintermediation.
On Wednesday, July 21, Wylie announced the launch of Odyssey Editions and its exclusive deal with Amazon.com. Under the agreement, backlist titles by such contemporary authors as John Updike, Louise Erdrich, and Saul Bellow would be available for the first time as e-books, but could be purchased only from Amazon.com in its proprietary Kindle edition format.
Random House responded quickly to the news. A day after the announcement, corporate spokesperson Stuart Applebaum noted in a prepared release, “The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this agency as our direct competitor.” As a result, Applebaum added that “regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.” Quoted in the New York Times, Wylie expressed surprise at Random House’s move and said, “I’m going to think about it a little bit,” adding “we take it seriously, as do the authors we represent. This area of discussion and negotiation needs to be resolved.”
Regarding the launch of Wylie’s Odyssey Editions, ABA CEO Oren Teicher said, “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. Books -- in whatever format -- are crucibles of ideas and unique expression, and we should be doing all that we can to expand, not constrict, readers’ access to them.”
Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote on the company’s blog that while “combining the functions of agent and publisher raises serious issues that I feel strongly about ... if Andrew wants to attempt to disintermediate publishers, that is his right.” He continued, “I am appalled, however, that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer.” Noting that a basic tenet of publishing is books should be as widely available as possible, Sargent said that the exclusive agreement with Amazon.com “further empowers the dominant player in the market to the detriment of their competitors and creates an unbalanced retail marketplace.” (See related story.)