Here are some of the issues as of this time in publishing.
1. We all need each other in publishing to make publishing work for authors in a variety of formats now and in the future. Anyone who thinks publishers don’t bring anything to the table has a very narrow view and lack of knowledge about the industry as a whole.
2. Before language giving publishers ebooks rights appeared in their agreements with authors they relied on the revenue from back list sales as part of their over-all profitability and business model. As the back list migrates towards ebooks this becomes a very important factor in the publishing industry. Back list income can be as much as 40% at the high end.
3. As for agents setting themselves up as publishers I view this as conflict of interest. I have no problem selling ebooks for authors directly as an agent but partnering with them is another matter. I wonder what Andrew’s financial relationship will be with his authors as a publisher? Agents have a fiduciary relationship with their authors. I’m looking forward to seeing how The Author’s Guild weighs in on this matter. What if there is litigation between the agent/publisher and the author as an example over a spat because a disagreement over an interpretation of a clause in the agreement?
3. There are legal protections most publishers provide to authors along with access to council. Buying insurance for each author or estate can be costly and litigation can financially break authors and/or estates where insurance does not cover those costs. Self insuring is not a panacea. When a publisher defends an author he/she does not have to pay the expense in the majority of cases. That includes defending the work.
4. As time goes by I believe publishers will improve the splits for back list titles. The backlist is gravy as far as ebooks are concerned and publishers know this fact. Coming in after all the profit and lost statements have been done in the past and earnings coming in over the year justifies in my mind a better split for rights than what publishers are now proposing for backlist ebook rights.
5. It is not simply an economic issue as many are focusing on. That is one element. No agent/publisher is in a position to create across a spectrum of media and distribution what major publishers can accomplish for authors. Just use as an example Random House’s publication of THE PASSAGE by Just Cronin (a Trident author). This book reached the #3 position on the New York Times bestsellers list and has sold a load of ebooks and print books. If the author had done it alone without a major publisher behind him supporting the work in a wide business spectrum would he have had the success he has now accomplished? His team work with his literary agent, Ellen Levine along with the Random House group delivered a terrific result.
6. In my view the ebook world for both established and new authors is a terrific new and exciting format. It is a format that will bring forth many new writers to publishing. I urge publishers to be open minded about publishing many of these authors even though they have not appeared in paper. Using the old metric system of evaluating new ebooks original authors has to change within the industry for publishers to capture this new business. It starts with leadership within the editorial operations at publishing houses.
I understand Random House’s reaction. The stakes are high for them and other houses that have substantial backlists. Markus Dohle is a cool headed executive and would not have had such a strong reaction unless he recognized what the stakes are for Random House as a whole. If you visit the Random House lobby on 56th street in New York City you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of classic back list titles in book cases. I love sitting in the lobby while waiting for meetings and viewing those titles. It really speaks to the history, literature of publishing and the business at the same time.
Trident Media Group