Publishers need to "stand firm" against digital giants

Literary agent Andrew Wylie has said publishers need to "stand firm" in the face of digital companies like Amazon and Apple or risk being locked into an insupportable business model that is unable to reward writers.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 "The World at One", the literary agent said publishers were moving to the demands of "digital distributors" such as Amazon and Apple. He said: "I think if they allow the digital distributors to set the music, then the dance will become fatal."

He said distributors have had too much power for too long and publishers needed to "stand firm". However, when asked if he felt publishers had the strength to resist these forces, he said: "The demise of the music industry was brought about because the industry allowed itself to transfer 30% of profitability that existed in that industry to the digital device holder Apple. Publishers have now replicated that by transferring 30% for no apparent reason to digital device holder Amazon, Apple and others."

He said he saw no harm in publishers transferring 30% of its profits to Amazon and Apple, if those companies were prepared to share 30% of profits from the iPad or Kindle with publishers. He said: "They [Amazon] have the device, but they cannot sell it without the content."

Wylie caused uproar last summer when he launched a digital only imprint through Amazon, offering titles from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and John Updike. The move was seen as an attempt to garner better digital royalties for his authors. Wylie returned to the issue of digital royalties in today's interview. He said the 70% digital royalties offered by Amazon and Apple would be "difficult to refuse" in the long term.

However, he rowed back from saying all authors should publish direct to digital. He said: "If they do that inevitably the new digital distribution mechanism will lower the retail price until it's pointless for authors to spend their time writing. What is really needed, I believe, is for publishers to raise digital royalty to 50% and create a viable alternative to what is being offered by Amazon and Apple and other."

Wylie was also asked about his nickname of "The Jackal". He said: "I don't really care about it one way or another...It comes up and I don't dislike it or like it. It's there."

The piece ran as part of a series looking into the future of publishing featuring on "The World at One" this week.