Publishers respond to Andrew Wylie

The big news today was when lit agent Andrew Wylie announced his own publishing imprint that would publish the digital backlist for his author clients. So far we have the response form 2 publishers; one is laughable and the other is puzzling.

Random House were the first to weigh in. You might recall the rights grab they tried back in December. Well, RH are still insisting that they have the rights to the backlist, and they're threatening to sue:

We are disappointed by Mr. Wylie's actions, which we dispute. 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.

Ha. Do they really expect us to beleive that an old hand like Andrew Wylie didn't triple check the old contracts before signing the new ones?

Macmillan are the puzzling one. I've read the post that John Sargent left on the Macmillan blog, and I'm concerned about the tenous grasp he has with reality. I'm going to take his response point by point, and show you how strange it is.

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.

No It's Not. The basic tenet of publishing is to make money. If he doesn't know that then he shouldn't be running a major publisher. And I would say it's rather obvious that Andrew Wylie got the best deal

And what of Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and others? As they promote the frontlist books for which Andrew is the agent, they are not going to be able to sell his publishing backlist in digital form . . . while their competitor can?

Is he afraid their feelings would be hurt?

Damn Andrew Wylie for bruising the egos of multi-million dollar corporations.

BTW, what makes you think they would notice? What makes you think they know who has the digital rights, or even care? Right now digital rights are in such a muddle that these 20 titles are a drop in the tsunami.

In the long run, though, making literature exclusively available digitally to a single retailer will be damaging to the whole book community: authors, agents, publishers, and readers.

Why, exactly*? (Note that he doesn't prove this; he merely states it.) And BTW, this point is irrelevant. No one acts in the interest of the group; they act in their own best interest.

* Could someone  give an answer to the last question, please? I'd really like to know.

About Nate Hoffelder (11477 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on Publishers respond to Andrew Wylie

  1. Re: last question. In this case, because K format is proprietary to one device. OTOH, it could be argued that ePub is proprietary to one frikkin DRM vendor: Adobe!

    • And, of course, after I hit the button, I again realized that, no, most eBooks are no longer limited to one device. K is now on all iOS, Android, as well as Windows/OS X.

  2. “Could someone give an answer to the last question, please? I’d really like to know.”

    Because it creates a non-competitive marketplace. Lack of competition tends to lead, in the long run, to higher prices.

    • Nate the great // 23 July, 2010 at 1:35 pm // Reply

      But giving Amazon an exclusive on these 20 titles won’t do that.

      And the format availability issue is so muddled that I don’t see how this will have any effect.

  3. “But giving Amazon an exclusive on these 20 titles won’t do that.” Sorry, but what do you mean? There is now a non-competitive market for the e-book edition of these books. It’s as if the print edition were only available at Costco. The price to the consumer might be low in the short-run but the standard principles of economics predict that the price will rise in the long run. As well the creator and manufacturer should expect to see their share of the revenue decrease because the lack of competition gives greater leverage to the retailer.

    • Nate the great // 23 July, 2010 at 2:14 pm // Reply

      I was referring to the ebook market as a whole. I don’t think you can accurately apply that term to a situation with just a handful of titles. If the prices on these ebooks rise too much then people will buy a different title. Following through on an anticompetitive strategy like you describe would be self defeating.

      Also, one thing you should keep in mind about digital content is that there is no such thing as a monopoly. All retailers are competing with free content (via piracy). If Amazon raise the price too high then more people will pirate instead of buy.

  4. Re: last question

    Amazon gets treated like the Galactic Empire of the book world these days. Anything some jealous, tired, narrow minded old publisher can say to further vilify Amazon and those who do business with it and sound intellectual about it at the same time is almost an automatic response, especially if its coming from a Macmillan CEO.

    A new dawn for the world of publishing is right over the horizon. Guys like Sargent hate that.

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