Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wylie, Random House Dispute Heats Up

Reprinted with permission of Publishers Weekly 


Thursday's news that the Wylie Agency was getting into the publishing business, through a Kindle-only project called Odyssey Editions, reverberated throughout the industry yesterday, turned CEOs to blog and ultimately ended with Random House declaring it would no longer do business with the powerful literary agency.

After news broke that the Wylie Agency would be releasing Kindle editions of titles by a handful of its clients--backlist titles that had never appeared in digital form by Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer are among the 20 titles Odyssey Editions is launching with--Random House, which claimed it didn't know about Wylie's new business, issued two statements. The publisher, which disputes the notion an author or estate holds the digital right to titles it has under contract that were acquired before e-books existed, said it contacted Amazon questioning whether Wylie can offer these digital editions to the retailer.
Later in the day, Random upped the ante saying that it would be pulling its business from Wylie. The publisher issued a statement saying that the agency's decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon, sets the firm up as a competitor and that the house "will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.”
Macmillan CEO John Sargent weighed in on the issue, calling Wylie out in a blog post less for his decision to become a publisher than for selling titles through only one retailer. Sargent wrote: "Combining the functions of agent and publisher raises serious issues that I feel strongly about, but if Andrew wants to attempt to disintermediate publishers, that is his right. ... I am appalled, however, that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer." Sargent went on to say that Wylie's deal with Amazon, while good for the retailer, was "an extraordinarily bad deal for writers, illustrators, publishers, other booksellers, and for anyone who believes that books should be as widely available as possible."
Random has also cited exclusivity as one of the major problems it has with the deal. In a statement issued this morning, RH spokesperson Stuart Applebaum said: "We have received communications from upset retailers large and small. who have worked mightily over the years to sell the print editions of the Random  House authors affected by the Wylie announcement. They are feeling demotivated to continue to sell these authors with the same vigor if they are being denied the opportunity to sell their e-books. That's bad for our authors, their agent, and their publisher."

For his part, Wylie, who the Times said was "taken by surprise" by Random's move, told the paper he would need to "think about it a little bit,” before responding.