The Ed Victor Literary Agency, one of the most powerful agencies in London, has launched its own e-book and print on demand venture, Bedford Square Books, focusing initially on putting back into circulation out of print books or those on which the rights have reverted.
Six titles by authors represented by the agency will be released in September in digital format and also made available in POD, with a further six planned for January 2012 release. The first six titles are Good Times, Bad Times by Sir Harold Evans (which was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson); Two Sides of the Moon by David Scott and Alexei Leonov (Simon & Schuster); Tales for the Telling by Edna O'Brien (Puffin); Flint by Paul Eddy (Headline); The Secret History of Ancient Egypt by Herbie Brennan (Piatkus), and The Good Opera Guide by Sir Denis Forman (W&N).
Bedford Square Books then has plans to release a further six titles next January, and will also create Bedford Square Stories, releasing short stories, that could be original or could have had rights reverted, in 2012. Victor said he would consider publishing original work, and acknowledged this could happen if the agency was passionate about a piece of writing but had not been able to sell it to a publisher.
However, he added: "If I had a choice to go with Bedford Square Books or with a publisher, I would always go with the publisher. If you don't do it, I will."
On his motivation for the new venture, Victor said: "My colleagues and I have for some time been of the opinion that a number of great backlist titles by our clients, currently out of print or reverted, should be available to the book-buying public, either because they are as relevant as ever, or because they are classics in their field. We believe this is a valuable service not only for our authors, but also for readers. Although it is our intention to concentrate on our of print and reverted titles, we may publish original books if there is a compelling case to do so."
While the agent Sonia Land spoke of frustration with publishers as a motivation for signing a deal to sell Catherine Cookson's e-books through Amazon, Victor said he was not frustrated with the respective publishers' treatment of the authors' backlist. He added: "I'm not doing this in any way to compete with or anger the publishing industry. If they think that, then they are entitled to think that . . . I'm doing this for the fun of it, and as a service to my clients."
He said that in terms of the first set of six books to be released, he had not gone back to the publisher "in every case".
Victor's move follows discussion among agents before London Book Fair surrounding a clause within the Association of Authors' Agents (AAA) constitution which prevents members acting as publishers. On the clause, Victor said: "I didn't know that [that clause existed], I don't understand why they would have that", adding that in his view, "of course" it should be changed. Victor said: "If the publishers get angry, if the AAA gets angry, so be it. I'm very happy with it. The authors will be happy".
The agency is not taking on any new staff, but will work with digital production company Acorn to create and distribute the content in the correct format. The agency has also retained J K Rowling's joint publicist Mark Hutchinson to market the titles through social media sites.
The titles will all be available on online booksellers including Amazon.co.uk and the iBookstore, with Victor confirming he intends to adopt the agency model. He said: "I think it will all be on the agency model, we'll give up 30%, then we will give up another percentage to Acorn". The POD side will be through Gardners, with print carried out by Antony Rowe.
He said net receipts will be divided on a 50/50 basis between author and agency, once production costs have been recouped out of the first receipts. This is in contrast to the 25% royalty rate understood to be offered by most major publishers.
Victor described the lines separating different roles within the industry as being "blurred", and, looking ahead, comparing publishers and agents' ability to compete in a changing industry, he said: "I'm certainly lighter on my feet and maybe that's the answer for the future."
Bedford Square Books is currently a UK-only venture, though Victor said he was in discussion with Jane Friedman at Open Road in the US surrounding distribution of the titles there.