July 29, 2010

Wily Wylie

The story starts with the Wylie Agency realizing that ebooks rights aren't stipulated in many of its authors' contracts. And "being very smart, recognizes that [ebook] rights are valuable, and so sells them [to Amazon] to make boatloads of extra cash for themselves and their Very Famous Authors."

Random House gets mad because now it can't make boatloads of extra cash for doing what, heck, I do. Remember when the music industry made boatloads of cash burning CDs from the master tapes in its vaults, and sold them to people who'd already bought the LPs and cassette tapes?

Remember what happened next? Remember how the music industry responded with cool heads and innovative, forward-looking business plans? No?

Random House, the country's leading trade publisher, announced Thursday that it would conduct no new English-language business with the Wylie Agency, which earlier in the day launched an e-book line that would release works by John Updike, Salman Rushdie and other Random authors through online retailer Amazon.

Random House lost a similar e-rights case with Rosetta Books a few years back. So, in the words of Authors Guild President Scott Turow,

[Random House isn't] gonna take anything out on the behemoth Amazon . . . [they're] gonna walk down the beach and kick some sand in the face of the 99-pound weakling [i.e., the midlist authors Wylie represents].

The problem is that, as Lynn Neary further explains on Morning Edition, "Publishing [used to be] about putting books on shelves. If you don't need to put books on shelves, you don't need the [traditional] publishing houses."

Seth Godin echoes this sentiment, wondering why publishers act as if they are in tree-growing or papermaking or offset printing or shipping businesses. He concludes,

Many businesses act as if they have a stake in their suppliers and other vendors. Instead of scaling the part of their business that can move quickly and well, they defend the part they don't even own. [He expounds more on the subject here.]

Unlike Wylie, the problem with poor Wile E. Coyote is that no matter what his goals when he starts out, he always ends up in the ACME anvil & explosives business, not in the bird-eating business.

UPDATE: Jeff Bezos talks about the Amazon vision and the new Kindle 3 on Charlie Rose. Bezos understands what business he is in (and I'm glad he's still avoiding the touch screen).

UPDATE: Wylie calls Random House's bluff big time.

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# posted by Anonymous Mojo
7/29/2010 10:28 AM   
Unlike Wylie, the problem with poor Wile E. Coyote is

Yeah, but whether he realizes it or not, he's just hoisted the whole agenting biz (as it works right now) on his petard.

It's not a fur stretch from "let's cut out the publishers" to "let's cut out the agents."
# posted by Blogger Eugene
7/29/2010 11:21 AM   
Or the established agencies will transform themselves into publishers who can maintain their stables of authors because they offer the best deals around.

One of the many things that is killing traditional publishers is the widespread assumption among authors that they're doing their best to rip them off (ebook pricing and the 25 versus 50 percent royalty being two cases in point).

Prove that assumption wrong, offer the best editorial and marketing services available, and they could turn things around.
# posted by Blogger Joe
7/29/2010 12:36 PM   
Getting rid of agents and publishers is A Good Thing--as currently set up both are nothing more than cartels. Agents are great for the established writer/actor/sports figure, but suck for everyone else trying to get in.

There are two things publishers can do; provide good copy editors and do marketing. And for most authors, publishers have long fallen quite short on the latter--they just pay stores to stack books near the entry and do a book signing. Now, they actually have to put there money where their mouth is and it turns out to not be so easy. Instead of accepting reality and taking advantage of it, they whine. If Random House had spent as much effort figuring out how to be The Experts in ePublishing as they have in whining and beating the dead horse of bookstores, they'd be way ahead of the game. (Mind you, this a publishing house so monumentally stupid and blind that they didn't secure electronic rights--even the film industry wasn't that stupid [not visionary either--they just had contracts securing all rights now and for whatever someone dreams up in the future.])