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AAA puts focus on agents publishing at a.g.m.
16.06.11 | Philip Jones
The Association of Authors Agents has formally discussed the issue of its members publishing. One agent reported that a "consensus" had been reached that it did not breach the AAA's code of conduct, but other agents have since disputed this interpretation of events.
The issue was part of the AAA's annual general meeting, and follows the decision by agents Ed Victor and Sheil Land Associates to set up publishing imprints. Agent Peter Cox, who was unable to attend the meeting for personal reasons, had attempted to put a motion before the meeting calling for those agents who had begun publishing to be removed from the body. In the statement he said the AAA had to decide if it wanted to turn a "blind eye, and therefore, an indulgent eye to the recent practice of agents becoming publishers to their clients".
Cox had received assurances that his statement would be read out by AAA president Anthony Goff, but according to one agent who was at the meeting, following a "civilised discussion" of the issue it was decided not to hear Cox's motion. According to the agent, who did not wish to named, there was general agreement that agents publishing did not "specifically conflict with the AAA's Code of Conduct". AAA discussions are treated as confidential by their members, but Anthony Goff, president of the AAA, and agent with David Higham Associates, said the matter was not concluded. "These are early days and we will no doubt be discussing this issue at many times in the future as both members' intentions and the market itself become clearer."
In his motion Cox formally asked the AAA to suspend the membership of those agents who had opted to become publishers to their clients. Cox also called for the creation of a sub-committee to examine the issue of agents publishing. In a separate statement released to The Bookseller, Cox said: "The code of conduct specifically excludes those involved in publishing from becoming a member, and it is only common sense that any member who subsequently becomes a publisher is no longer eligible for membership."
When told by The Bookseller that his statement had not been read out Cox responded: "The AAA had a clear opportunity to take the lead on this issue last night. I'm appalled that they have not done so, and even more shocked that the chair decided not to put my three motions on this subject to the vote of the meeting. This isn't the sort of leadership that agents need. This issue goes to the heart of what being an agent is all about. It will not go away. By ducking it, the AAA can only have lowered its reputation amongst clients and authors. If the AAA is not going to take a principled stand on this—who will?"
But one agent defended the decision not to hear Cox's statement. "We are not silencing him," the agent said. "Cox does not have the right to harangue fellow agents from a distance, but if he wants to turn up and speak, he will be heard. Had he turned up, he would have been met by a generally unfriendly audience."
Goff refused to say whether the motion had been read out, or give reasons for not reading it. But he issued the following statement: "There are certain activities that our code of conduct explicitly prohibits and the practice of agencies offering their authors a way to market their books directly to the reader is not one of them, but these are early days and we will no doubt be discussing this issue at many times in the future as both members' intentions and the market itself become clearer. Our members agree that it is absolutely not our aim to compete with publishers but rather to work with them, as we have always done in the past."
AAA members Ed Victor and Sheil Land Associates have both set up publishing imprints, while Blake Friedman and Curtis Brown have said they intend to follow. Victor has previously said that if he had to choose between the AAA and his publishing imprint, he would choose the imprint.