Agency shift sparks anger, uncertainty at LBF

Agency shift sparks anger, uncertainty at LBF

The London Book Fair has opened in a mood of uncertainty and anger as the industry continues to absorb the news of the US Department of Justice’s move against e-book agency pricing last week.

But agents and publishers said business will continue at LBF despite the dramatic developments, which saw Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster Inc and HarperCollins abandon their agency deals with Apple, while Apple, Macmillan and Penguin vowed to fight on against allegations of collusion over e-book prices.

Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander said there was “a certain hysteria” in the industry. “We’re carrying on but are we the orchestra playing on the ‘Titanic’? Certainly we are now at a moment where the survival or otherwise of the eco-system in which we have all grown up is at risk.” 

David Miller at Rogers, Coleridge & White said: “It seems dotty that retailers can drive the price of books down and make consumers feel they are being short-changed. In London, a paperback costs about the same as two trips on the Tube or a bottle of wine. You don’t get the man in the street walking into Oddbin’s demanding to buy a bottle of Chardonnay for 99p, do you?”

Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, said he was concerned the news would hit confidence at the fair: “People are going to be a bit worried and uncertain. Nobody knows how things are going to play out on the back of the announcement, or what it means.”

Vicky Hartley, head of digital at Duncan Baird Publishers, confirmed the US development would affect the terms her company could offer authors, “as without fixed pricing we and other publishers of our size would find it tough to offer terms off r.r.p.” Hartley added: “It will be generally more important than ever to buy world digital rights, or at least world English language rights.”

Agent Ed Victor said the question of how books were going to be sold made deal-making “very difficult”, but that business would continue. “Things have been difficult for four years,” he said, adding that there was “a lot more camaraderie around in the industry” in these tricky times. “We are all in the same lifeboat on a stormy sea,” he said.