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WORD: Publishing brawl Round 2 -- The Wylie Agency dishes Mailer, Nabokov eBooks with Amazon
By BPM Smith

The Wylie Agency announced that it is launching a new eBook division Odyssey Editions in an exclusive deal with Amazon that allows it to sell a bunch of old school novels via Kindle. Naturally, it resulted in yet another brawl between Big Publishing and Amazon with a twist -- Amazon has a major literary agency with some 700 clients on its side.

Some titles on the backlist: Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March," Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint," Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead."

First reaction: Sweet, these are some phat novels we could not read electronically until now. Bring on my favorites like Louis Ferdinand Celine, Jorge Luis Borge, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway and William S. Burroughs. Classic authors re-launched in a contemporary format so the masters get introduced to young readers who embrace technology more than old books.

Second reaction: Punch-out with brick and mortar pubs to begin in 3...2...1 minute.

Bam! Random House threw a right cross at The Wylie Agency saying they will no longer deal with them "until this situation is resolved." Boom! Macmillan’s CEO countered with a left hook FU note on their website.

Does The Wylie Agency care? Founder Andrew Wylie said, "I’m going to think about it a little bit." I doubt he is stressing much over this. He’ll just take business elsewhere. If several major pubs do the same then we can ring the bell for another round in the ongoing fight matching Big Publishing vs. Amazon

Other agents could eventually jump into the ring, resulting in a true Battle Royale. Wouldn’t surprise me to see that because literary agents have been grumbling about the slim eBook royalty rates that publishers give authors for years.

What if agents decided to cut out traditional pubs and bring their authors straight to eBook format? After all, when a big pub pays a 25% royalty vs. the 75% authors receive when going on their own, does the math make sense? For big name writers who already have a following?

At the end of the day this is yet another example of an antiquated book industry unable to figure out new technologies. Mind you, it’s been years since eBooks came along and they still haven’t figured out WTF to do about it because the industry moves like a slug on salt. The original contracts with these backlist authors didn't even consider future technologies, so they're not covered in any lawsuits per se.

My bet: Either Wylie backs off or the courts will eventually decide, when we’ll cue up Michael Buffer announcing: "In the red corner, The Wylie Agency!... in the blue corner, Big Publishing!" If so, the WORD’N’BASS odds will open at even money. After a long give and take fight this bout could result in a KO loss for Big Publishing.

WORD’N’BASS.com Editor BPM Smith is a Drum & Bass DJ, deputy editor for a global financial news wire, and author of the "gritty and engaging" novel "Bistro de Mars," which is currently seeking agency representation. E-mail queries, gossip or shout-outs to editor (at) wordnbass (dot) com.


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