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Wylie splits the trade over Odyssey
27.07.10 | Catherine Neilan
The Independent carries two competing analyses of Andrew Wylie's move to create a digital-only imprint, bypassing publishers in favour of better royalties for his authors.
Meanwhile, a US bookseller has come up with a novel way of objecting to the Wylie deal. Square Books in Oxford, MI is featuring a window display of books by authors represented by the Wylie Agency, each flagged as "this book not for sale" (pictured).
In an Independent opinion piece published today (27th July), Profile m.d Andrew Franklin argues that although publishers should ensure they are still adding value to the food chain, Wylie's new company will "almost certainly not" serve authors better. "They will almost certainly get higher royalties (though Wylie is giving nothing away about how generous – or mean – he is being). But this misses a golden business principle: it is more important to look at the size of the cake than worry about the thickness of the slice," he says.
Franklin points out that the two-year exclusive deal with Amazon cuts out Apple's iBookstore, Waterstones.com and Google at the very least. "What publisher could satisfy any author or their agent if they said they would only sell to WH Smith?" Franklin asks, before noting that "most of Wylie's authors won't complain because they're dead".
He also stresses that "e-books are not a separate market from physical books. They are wholly dependent on physical book sales. Some would say they are parasitical on them".
E-books largely sell "on the back" of the marketing, publicity, and editorial and design work, and sales tend to cannabalise sales of the physical product, he adds. "So for every e-book the Wylie imprint sells, the real publisher, Penguin, Random House or Faber, will sell one fewer. But their costs will not go down because they will continue to do all the editorial, sales and marketing work for the physical books."
But Boyd Tonkin takes an entirely different view. Quoting from two separate articles that appeared on The Bookseller yesterday, he notes that John Makinson, chief executive of Penguin said the e-book imprint was "not a cosmic issue", while Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, said publishers should offer better terms to authors for e-books and that "we will see a rise in royalty rates".
Tonkin writes: "Wylie aims to provoke, and to annoy. He has done both. In truth, the Odyssey Editions proposition looks full of holes: from legal doubts about whether he really has unassigned electronic rights, to the cost of designing, promoting and selling the e-books. With no help from publishers, Wylie has to create every aspect of his electronic imprint. That will wipe out much of the cost saving that should allow authors to receive a more ample royalty deal when a digital edition simply replicates a printed one.
"Does he care? I doubt it. He has scored already. The insulting offers for digital rights made to many authors by the trade-publishing giants have come into the spotlight. Wylie-Odysseus has called their bluff. He will sail away to the next venture while they nurse their injured pride."
On its bookshop's blog, Square Books said that "we encourage our customers to take a look at this display and think about the ramifications of this effort to vertically integrate the book industry and limit or exclude access to information and free expression".
The store said the two-year Kindle exclusive was "a soiling of the first amendment that so many of the agency's authors, such as Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie, have fought so hard to protect".