What to make of last week’s move by the agent Andrew Wylie to cut out the middle men – not the old middle men, literary agents, but the new middle men, publishers – and publish e-books himself as Odyssey Editions (‘wily Odysseus’, geddit?), sold exclusively through Amazon?
Random House responded by announcing it would do no more deals with the agency, and other publishers – Macmillan, HarperCollins – joined in the criticism, though (so far) they’ve stopped short of refusing to do any new business with Wylie. Penguin isn’t fussed though: or if it is, it’s doing a good job of pretending not to be.
Boyd Tonkin in the Independent argued that the whole thing is a cunning – and possibly already successful – ruse to get publishers to give writers higher royalties on digitial editions.
The Authors’ Guild of America likes the idea of writers being paid more for e-books, but isn’t happy about Amazon getting its exclusive hands on the Odyssey list. Waterstone’s unsurprisingly doesn’t like that either, nor does the American Booksellers Association, and it’s possibly what’s making the publishers most furious – just when they thought they might at last be gaining the upper hand with the online behemoth.
On Twitter meanwhile, Evil Agent Wylie (website:www.amazon.com) is doing satirical comic book battle with Captain Random House (‘True Fact: to access EvilWylie’s Odyssey Editions on your Kindle, you must insert your firstborn child into the USB port’).
But where do readers stand in all this? Everyone in the trade is insisting that whatever’s most profitable for them is also best for us. Funny that. Anyway, if you want to read Lolita, Midnight’s Children or Invisible Man as an e-book, you can order a new, ‘third-generation’ Kindle from amazon.co.uk for delivery next month. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can get a paper version from the London Review Bookshop right now. They sell cake there too, which is more than you can say for Wylie, Amazon or Random House.