Literary agents are privately discussing removing a clause preventing them from acting as publishers in the UK Association of Authors' Agents constitution.
The issue is not yet on the agenda of the next AAA meeting but the debate was sparked following Sonia Land's decision to publish Catherine Cookson's backlist digitally through her own company Peach Publishing, as well as Amazon.com's continued courting of agents, with it currently hiring an editorial director.
The AAA constitution says anyone employed by a publisher should not be eligible for membership. Piers Blofeld of Sheil Land said the AAA should reflect the "fast-changing landscape" of publishing. He said: "There are obvious issues and potential conflicts of interest, but at heart the role of an agent is to offer advice and support to a writer on their writing career. We're here to maximise their earnings. We're not simply there to act as an interface between authors and publishers—that landscape has gone."
However, Simon Trewin at United Agents sounded a note of caution about agents fully turning publisher, suggesting it would be a "seismic shift" for the industry. He said: "I'm not sure the upheaval would be worth the benefits."
The debate comes as Amazon.com increasingly steps up its publishing programme. It is understood to already have crime and romance fiction editors and is seeking an editorial director. Last week it emerged it was a frontlist bidder at an auction for self-published sensation Amanda Hocking.
Cathryn Summerhayes of WME said it has brokered its first deal directly with Amazon, signing a three-book deal for North American rights for thriller writer Mark Gimenez. Summerhayes called the step "a revelation" but added: "I am aware it can be perceived as a clash of interests so every step we take has to be very careful."
David Miller of Rogers, Coleridge & White said he had a number of clients keen to explore going direct to a digital bookseller. "I am in the position where I can do it for them, let them do it themselves directly, or involve the publisher . . . I wouldn't go direct to digital if there was an opportunity to do a deal with the primary publisher; but if, for example, a book had failed to find a US publisher, I would go direct in that market."