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Will Publishing Houses Be Kindle’s First Casualty?

Eliminate the middle-man. This classic piece of business advice recently received an unusual interpretation: the literary agent, commonly seen as the middle-man between author and publishing house, is circumventing the publishing house!

The Guardian has reported on star literary agent Andrew Wylie’s move to sell the electronic form of twenty very popular titles, ranging from Nabokov’s Lolita to Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children to Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle.

Random House will continue to print and sell the books’ paper editions, but has refused to make any new contracts with Wylie until the issue of electronic copyright is resolved. Random House claims that contracts made before the advent of digital publishing automatically extend to cover digital rights thus giving publishers control of digital works, not the literary agent or the book’s author.

This is contested by both agent and author who say publishing houses only have rights explicitly stated in contracts and that any undefined rights are retained by the author.

The American Authors Guild has little sympathy for publishers who typically grant about twenty-five percent of a book’s sales as royalties. According to The Guardian, under the agreement authors have reached with Wylie, and Wylie with Amazon, authors can expect to receive over half of their book’s sales in royalties.

Equally there is concern over the limited availability of the twenty selected books. There are emerging e-readers besides Amazon’s Kindle, but without lucrative titles to sell, competition may be thwarted by exclusive deals such as this.

Depending on how popular e-reading becomes, this could easily be the end of publishing houses, assuming agreements such as Wylie’s continue to be made.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, user: KoS

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