29 July 2010

The Andrew Wylie Debate

I've been reading all the news articles about the Andrew Wylie deal with Amazon and thought I'd throw my two cents into the ring. Firstly, for those of you who aren't up to speed, agent Andrew Wylie has bypassed the traditional supply chain (in this case publishers) and signed over digital rights for some 20 books to a two year EXCLUSIVE deal with Amazon. Authors wrapped up in the arrangement include Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and John Updike. I understand they are backlist titles but would be happy to be corrected on this.

Random House is furious and other publishers have released statements. According to The Guardian, Random declared Wylie a "direct competitor" and ruled out "entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved". The Guardian article is pretty good so here's the link.

Am I surprised? As an observer of the publishing industry: Not at all. Ebook royalty rates have been debated left right and centre. The agency model attributed to Apple is also a hot topic. Everyone's looking at the ebook pie and trying to carve it up. In the digital world, publishers don't have the control they used to. The barriers to entry have come down. With "e" and Print on Demand, the landscape has changed, and publishers have been examining their role and what they bring to the table so closely they must be getting eyestrain.

Of course his Wylie arrangement is all about the dollars. By going with the industry leader (Amazon's Kindle) as the ebook device and vendor of choice (not mine I might add) they believe a direct arrangement with Amazon - bypassing the publisher of the printed work (who has assumed ebook rights)- is going to yield a much better return for the authors.

Am I surprised? As a consumer: bloody oath! Why should I be locked out of purchasing the titles concerned because I don't own a friggin' Kindle!?

When publishers speak about ebooks they speak about non-exclusive arrangements and getting the content into all devices, platforms and work into the ebook supply chain. You give the consumer the choice and the power to choose what works for them. That's the handshake arrangement. The honour system. Who is Andrew Wylie to say I can't have access to these ebooks unless I purchase a Kindle? And Amazon is probably grinning from ear to ear, but I'm not impressed at all. Shame Amazon. You think it's a leadership position but you've just lost my vote. You have championed the consumer in the e and p world. And I don't mind if you get them earlier and have some competitive edge, but I'm disgusted you've done the deal.

I guess it's lucky for all I don't like these authors. Then again, the beauty of ebooks is that I pick books I haven't read previously, give the author or the genre a go. A quick, cost effective read that may turn into a life-long love. Who knows? I guess with Rushdie, Upton et al, it's not going to happen now for their backlist titles. I'm not going to buy a Kindle just to read them electronically. And I can't see me looking out for the print now. Your names will trigger a reaction in future. And it's not a nice one.

The Andrew Wylie/Amazon deal is just another example to highlight everything we thought about the publishing and bookselling supply chain is wrong. This digital world is not straightforward. It's turning everything on it's head. How it will all end up? Who knows. Am I surprised? No. We've seen it coming. Normally I'd say pick yourself up and dust yourself off, get back on that horse. But in this digital, greedy world. I'm not sure what direction we are heading.

1 comment:

  1. The Wylie Agency – Random House Joint Press Statement
    August 24, 2010

    "We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House's current e-book customers. Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency for English-language manuscript submissions and potential acquisitions, and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us."

    --- Markus Dohle, Chairman & CEO, Random House
    Andrew Wylie, President, The Wylie Agency LLC