Before I leave bookhitch.com alone for this month, one more article of import from them on digital rights. I don't know how this is going to shake out, other than through national legislation (although I don't know if legislation is possible from Washington anymore). Okay, tongue in cheek, that!
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Who's Got the Rights?
One of the most controversial issues about eBooks is the question of rights. Do the rights to publish a book electronically belong to the author, the agent, the publisher or a combination of the three? Can one company have a sole right to distribute certain eBooks? What counts as infringement in this digital world? These are issues being sorted out right now in the saga of Andrew Wylie, Random House and backlisted eBooks.
Andrew Wylie, a top literary agent who represents hundreds of distinguished authors such as John Updike and Martin Amis, announced in July that he would be starting his own eBook publishing venture using books published by Random House and other trade book publishers. This venture, called Odyssey Editions, would focus on older titles whose rights are not owned by traditional publishers. He has entered into a two-year contract with Amazon, who will offer these books exclusively through their Kindle store for two years. Does he have the right to do this? He says he does, stating that "backlist digital rights were not conveyed to publishers, and so there's an opportunity to do something with those rights". Wylie has made it clear that he is frustrated with the terms that mainstream publishers have offered for digital rights and has stated that his terms are "more favorable" than the terms other publishers were offering.
How does this effect publishers? Random House has declared that it would no longer do business with the powerful literary agency. Random House spokesman Scott Applebaum said the publisher "will not do new business deals with a literary agency which sets themselves up as a direct competitor of ours with our titles."Random House is not only affected by the competition that Wylie presents but by the exclusivity of the deal with Amazon. Applebaum stated that "We have received communications from upset retailers large and small who have worked mightily over the years to sell the print editions of the Random House authors affected by the Wylie announcement. They are feeling demotivated to continue to sell these authors with the same vigor if they are being denied the opportunity to sell their e-books. That's bad for our authors, their agent, and their publisher."
Wylie's exclusive deal with Amazon could be the biggest point of contention in the whole case. Macmillan's John Sargent has condemned Wylie's decision to deal exclusively with Amazon, stating that "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...and making literature exclusively available digitally to a single retailer will be damaging to the whole book community: authors, agents, publishers, and readers."American Bookseller Assocation CEO Oren Teicher released a statement saying that "diminishing the availability of titles and narrowing the options for readers can only harm our society in the long run."While the Author's Guild applauds Wylie for standing up against low eBook royalty rates, their statement brings blame upon Amazon which has "wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers".
So who can really win from this? Authors might win, because big publishers will finally realize that eBook royalties are too low and will raise them in order to prevent best-selling authors from moving to publishers offering higher payment. But Wylie's authors might lose out on revenue from other eBook distributors and by having their agent act as their publisher, there is a potential conflict of interest that could end badly. Wylie might win, financially as well as making a name for himself as a true champion of author rights. But he might also have taken a large gamble by choosing to be exclusive with Amazon, and therefore losing revenue that could have been had from other eBook sellers. Random House probably won't win. They can't really sue Wylie, because agents are not legally liable for breaches of contract committed by their clients. Random House would have to sue each of Wylie's authors individually, and publishers are loath to sue their authors or the widows and children of authors. Readers won't win because Amazon has the monopoly on the eBooks of Wylie's authors and therefore there can be no shopping around for a cheaper version. So who is the real winner here? Amazon. The bookseller has no legal action to worry about so while everyone else is fighting out the logistics, Amazon can sit back and watch their customers enjoy "Invisible Man", "Lolita" and similar Wylie titles exclusively.
So what do you think? Is a deal like this going to hurt most of the parties involved? Or will other agents follow Wylie's lead? Are people like Macmillan's John Sargent and American Bookseller Assocation CEO Oren Teicher truly condemning this for the good of the public or because they're upset they didn't think of it first? Let us know where you stand!
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.