News

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.

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So publishers should remain blissfully ignorant and fight to keep prices artificially high? And for the benefit of exactly whom besides themselves?

Ebooks are reshaping the publishing business in a number of ways.

Traditional model:

author (agent) -> publisher -> distributor -> seller -> reader

is being challenged by

author -> seller -> reader (e.g., Amazon KDP)

It is unclear how agents would be able to add value to this model by inserting themselves into the value chain.

You can listen to the whole interview here: http://t.co/U1HOyfu

Book prices are not artificially high, FYI. The level of ignorance about the value of goods is astonishing these days. When you buy a book (whether it's a hardcover or paperback or ebook or whatever), you are not paying for the format (the cost of printing or binding or making an ebook file), you're paying for the content and the overhead costs of editing and developing a manuscript into a book that will capture an audience. You can find a well-written article on the subject here: http://bit.ly/hQNUza

And an even better article about publishers needing to fight back in the digital age here: http://trib.in/pbzgJX

Good points all. Alas, but few publishers today provide good editing or even minimal marketing.

Perhaps not but the better agents do. I've had two agents - CLLA and William Morris Endeavour - and both agents I worked with were incredibly professional, supportive and helped me hone my typescript(s) into something I was proud to have written. It's true when it is said that the best books aren't written; they are edited.

And it is in this realm that I think the value of a good agent comes in; an individual who can help a writer with talent hone that skill into a commercial product. Then the formula:

author(agent) -> seller -> reader (e.g., Amazon KDP)

...makes sense. Admittedly, although I would like to be published by a recognisable and respected publishing house I am beginning to wonder if this is only because it has been ingrained in me. With the new digital age well and truly upon us, I am seriously coming round to the idea of writing the first few drafts of my new book and then working with such agencies as Cornerstones or The Literary Consultancy to hone the book... and then releasing it on Amazon. 30% to Amazon through Kindle? Seems fair to me, and I remain the master of what I write after that. It's amazing how many authors are dropped after their first, second or third books that may very well be wonderful but didn't claw back the advance... that is, if you were lucky to get an advance.

Though I have never had any dealings with Mr Wylie, I do wonder whether the agents who survive this shift in publishing are those who embrace and take advantage of the new technology; who are brave enough to actually publish electronically their clients rather than relying on traditional publishers to do it for them. Yes, this is a massive paradigm shift in thinking but those who dare...

Scott, the benefit is to Mr. Wylie and his publishing business. Remember, he is a publisher now, pretending to be an agent.

It is actually great Machiavellian advice by Mr. Wylie, i.e completely self serving. If the publishers "stand firm", which I assume means "keeping prices high" and "annoy customers by windowing and other tactics", even though he didn't actually say what he meant, the publishers will continue to loose market share and authors and therefore benefit Mr. Wylie's publishing business. Simple, effective and quite devious. (and rather scary if I was one of Mr. Wylie's clients or competitors, i.e Authors or Publishers. Though I wonderm if he is a publisher/agent... which is which? Are his competitors other publishers, or authors who might self publish?)

"When you buy a book ... you are not paying for the format."

Who does pay for it then - the Tooth Fairy? Of course you're paying for it; it's one element of the overall cost. We can argue over the proportion, but don't try to claim that it doesn't exist.

Ebooks priced at the same level as the paper product, which requires materials and manufacture, and have to be delivered, are a rip-off. Everyone knows this, including you.

So publishers should remain blissfully ignorant and fight to keep prices artificially high? And for the benefit of exactly whom besides themselves?

Book prices are not artificially high, FYI. The level of ignorance about the value of goods is astonishing these days. When you buy a book (whether it's a hardcover or paperback or ebook or whatever), you are not paying for the format (the cost of printing or binding or making an ebook file), you're paying for the content and the overhead costs of editing and developing a manuscript into a book that will capture an audience. You can find a well-written article on the subject here: http://bit.ly/hQNUza

And an even better article about publishers needing to fight back in the digital age here: http://trib.in/pbzgJX

"When you buy a book ... you are not paying for the format."

Who does pay for it then - the Tooth Fairy? Of course you're paying for it; it's one element of the overall cost. We can argue over the proportion, but don't try to claim that it doesn't exist.

Ebooks priced at the same level as the paper product, which requires materials and manufacture, and have to be delivered, are a rip-off. Everyone knows this, including you.

Scott, the benefit is to Mr. Wylie and his publishing business. Remember, he is a publisher now, pretending to be an agent.

It is actually great Machiavellian advice by Mr. Wylie, i.e completely self serving. If the publishers "stand firm", which I assume means "keeping prices high" and "annoy customers by windowing and other tactics", even though he didn't actually say what he meant, the publishers will continue to loose market share and authors and therefore benefit Mr. Wylie's publishing business. Simple, effective and quite devious. (and rather scary if I was one of Mr. Wylie's clients or competitors, i.e Authors or Publishers. Though I wonderm if he is a publisher/agent... which is which? Are his competitors other publishers, or authors who might self publish?)

Ebooks are reshaping the publishing business in a number of ways.

Traditional model:

author (agent) -> publisher -> distributor -> seller -> reader

is being challenged by

author -> seller -> reader (e.g., Amazon KDP)

It is unclear how agents would be able to add value to this model by inserting themselves into the value chain.

You can listen to the whole interview here: http://t.co/U1HOyfu

Good points all. Alas, but few publishers today provide good editing or even minimal marketing.

Perhaps not but the better agents do. I've had two agents - CLLA and William Morris Endeavour - and both agents I worked with were incredibly professional, supportive and helped me hone my typescript(s) into something I was proud to have written. It's true when it is said that the best books aren't written; they are edited.

And it is in this realm that I think the value of a good agent comes in; an individual who can help a writer with talent hone that skill into a commercial product. Then the formula:

author(agent) -> seller -> reader (e.g., Amazon KDP)

...makes sense. Admittedly, although I would like to be published by a recognisable and respected publishing house I am beginning to wonder if this is only because it has been ingrained in me. With the new digital age well and truly upon us, I am seriously coming round to the idea of writing the first few drafts of my new book and then working with such agencies as Cornerstones or The Literary Consultancy to hone the book... and then releasing it on Amazon. 30% to Amazon through Kindle? Seems fair to me, and I remain the master of what I write after that. It's amazing how many authors are dropped after their first, second or third books that may very well be wonderful but didn't claw back the advance... that is, if you were lucky to get an advance.

Though I have never had any dealings with Mr Wylie, I do wonder whether the agents who survive this shift in publishing are those who embrace and take advantage of the new technology; who are brave enough to actually publish electronically their clients rather than relying on traditional publishers to do it for them. Yes, this is a massive paradigm shift in thinking but those who dare...