Last Month's E-Book Headline Reversed! The Publishers Strike Back, Forcing Andrew Wylie's Hand

- by Thomas C. McKinney

John_updike

John Updike's novels will no longer be exclusively available through Amazon.com.


By Tom McKinney

Last month I wrote about how literary agent Andrew Wylie had struck an exclusive e-book deal with Amazon.com. It looked to be a potentially powerful precedent for authors and the electronic rights to their older works - with publishers cut out entirely. Obviously, publishers were not happy. In fact, Random House, the world's biggest publisher, claimed ownership of the e-book rights to thirteen of the twenty books available at the time of Odyssey Editions' launch. They immediately declared they would cease all business with Wylie and his agency. Wylie was given an easy choice. He is considered one of the world's top literary agents, representing over 700 clients. Losing all deals with the world's largest publisher simply outweighs the small in-roads achievable through selling old and out-of-print e-book classics.

So Random House's boycott worked. It has been about a month, and Random House and Andrew Wylie are doing business once again. A joint statement released by the two parties stated:

"We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House's current e-book customers. Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency for English-language manuscript submissions and potential acquisitions, and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us."

The Odyssey Editions site now only lists seven titles rather than the original twenty. A quick search on Amazon.com reveals all of the titles are actually still up for sale. It may be that the e-books on Amazon.com will not come down; instead Random House will not maintain exclusivity with Amazon so expect to see their e-book classics in other e-book stores sooner rather than later. Amazon has already had one incident involving deleting purchased e-books off of their members' Kindles, and it caused them to change their policy on doing just that - it doesn't happen anymore. So, if you bought any of these e-book classics, don't worry about them going anywhere.

The reversal of the majority of Odyssey Editions' catalogue is a definite blow to authors feeling stifled by publishers' share of the profit. While there's nothing to stop authors with new material from making direct deals with online e-book distributors, publishers have leverage in that e-books are still a small part of the market. Only very popular authors, like Stephen King, are making headlines by releasing directly or exclusively to e-book format, and still keeping peace with their traditional publishers. While anyone can write something and publish online these days, it's not as easy to get exposure. Another popular writer, Ryu Murakami, recently announced a plan to release his next novel exclusively to iPads through Apple Japan's App Store. By circumventing his publishers, rather than the 25% authors and agents typically receive from publishing houses, Murakami's looking at 70%. The real test there will be if the iPad can carry sales. It should be noted as well that Murakami's novel is more than just that; it's accompanied by video and music, so it's more of a multimedia experience.