Battle lines drawn over digital royalties

Battle lines drawn over digital royalties

<p>Bloomsbury has become the latest publisher to warn against hiving off digital rights, as publishers move to reinforce their position on digital rights after agent Andrew Wylie signed an exclusive digital deal with Amazon, following his many criticisms of the low royalties being offered for e-books. But the publishers&#39; stances were in contrast with the views of agents, who said they would act in the best interests of their authors even if it meant taking the digital rights off the print publisher.<br /><br />In an internal memo seen by<em> The Bookseller</em>, Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury, said for backlist titles the company would maintain &quot;e-books are an integral part of volume rights&rdquo; and &quot;should be commissioned, edited, designed, promoted, sold, and accounted together with print editions&mdash;any split of these rights is counterproductive and wrong for all concerned&rdquo;. He added: &quot;The non-compete clause in most contracts precludes a third party issuing an e-book.&rdquo;<br /><br /><em>The Bookseller</em> has also learned that Penguin chief executive John Makinson has won the backing of parent Pearson&#39;s main board over his decision to refuse books if digital rights were not granted. Makinson said there was &quot;a discussion to be had&rdquo; about the question of how e-book royalties were structured, though Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino said earlier in the week that e-royalties would increase. <br /><br />The Wylie Agency revealed last week it was launching a digital imprint called Odyssey Editions, kicking off with 20 titles by authors such as Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Philip Roth. Wylie signed a two-year deal with Amazon to sell the e-books exclusively through the Kindle Store. He has since threatened to expand the scheme if publishers refuse to improve their digital royalty rates. In response Random House said it will no longer deal with the Wylie Agency, while other publishers including HarperCollins, and Macmillan have expressed disappointment at the decision and pledged protect their interests.<br /><br />Agents spoken to by <em>The Bookseller</em> maintained that they had the &quot;absolute&quot; right to do what was best for their authors, including taking digital digital rights away from the print publisher if necesssary.<br /><br />Anthony Goff, head of the Association of Authors Agents and agent at David Higham Associates, said: &quot;Most, perhaps all, agents see themselves as having the absolute right to separate physical and digital rights. Most are reluctant to do that. But we all feel there has to be some reward for loyalty&mdash;everyone believes 25% is not a fair royalty and there are huge pressures on publishers to increase it. [The Wylie Odyssey move] is one sign of what will happen if they don&#39;t&mdash;but I don&#39;t think it will happen broadly.&rdquo;<br /><br />Philippa Milnes-Smith, m.d of LAW, applauded Wylie for bringing the debate to the fore, enabling &quot;dynamic, ongoing discussion with publishers&rdquo;. She added: &quot;There were possibly feelings of almost complacency coming in&mdash;that everything had been decided and this was how it was going to be&mdash;at least with some parties. Things are anything but concluded, but I think publishers would have liked to have thought they were nearing a stable conclusion.&rdquo;<br /><br />Simon Trewin, literary agent at United Agents, said publishers were the right home for e-books. &quot;This is something we are constantly looking at&mdash;how to get the best possible deal for our authors,&rdquo; he said. &quot;We have opportunities to review those arrangements in a period of time. As the industry develops, so the complexities and nuances will also develop. But it&#39;s not a bad thing&mdash;[Wylie] is getting the industry to focus on the issue.&rdquo;<br /><br />David Miller, agent at-Rogers Coleridge and White, said: &quot;An agent is an agent and not a publisher&mdash;we&#39;re there to protect authors&#39; rights as well as increase their revenue streams&mdash;but in a world where the digital environment is opening other opportunitities, it would be wrong not to think different thoughts as to how authors make their income and attract new -audiences.&rdquo;</p>