The Authors Guild has now weighed in on the intense debate that flared up last week over the Wylie Agency's entry into e-book publishing, Odyssey Editions. In a memo posted today on its site, the Guild called the situation "the most important development in electronic publishing since Apple entered the market," both celebrating the agency for seemingly monetizing e-rights it feels authors control and blasting it for setting up an exclusive deal with Amazon.
The Guild held up the Random House v. Rosetta Books case to support its stance that "authors retain e-rights in standard publishing contracts unless they expressly grant those rights to the publisher." It went on to say that, although there are potential conflicts of interest when an agency acts as a publisher, it assumes the Wylie Agency isn't taking a higher commission than usual and is therefore removing any conflict. (Some agents, however, disagree about the conflict of interest issue. Over the weekeng Trident Media Group's Robert Gottlieb spoke out on this point, outlining why he feels agencies should not be acting as publishers.)
What the Guild does take issue with about Odyssey Editions is the fact that the e-books sold through it will be available exclusively on Amazon. The organization said "any direct agreement between a literary agency and Amazon is troubling," since the e-tailer "has, time and again, wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers or, for that matter, antitrust rules." A Random House spokesperson said the publisher has been in contact with Amazon over its legal right to sell the titles in question.
The Guild, however, stresses that this showdown was in some ways caused by the publishers themselves. Saying the houses "brought this on themselves" by refusing to raise e-book royalty rates above 25%--a percentage it calls "exceedingly low"--the Guild believes the Wylie Agency found a way to monetize rights publishers were sitting on. The Guild writes: "Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers, even though they and their clients, no doubt, see real benefits in having a single publisher handle the print and electronic rights to a book." The memo closed with equal parts call to action and threat, with the Guild telling publishers to start "cutting authors in appropriately" on e-book rights, lest they want to watch a multitude of "weird" things like agencies becoming publishers continue to happen.