Friday, July 23, 2010

Konrath on Wylie

Quite a few people have asked me what I think about the Andrew Wylie situation.

In a nutshell, here's an agent who is taking some of his star clients' books, which were sold prior to ebook clauses existing in contracts, and publishing these ebooks himself.

I predicted something similar to this would happen, last October.

There are a few potential problems with this scenario.

First, Wylie is an agent. His job is to sell his clients' work. If he is also the publisher of his clients, there is a HUGE conflict of interest there, as well as some ethical considerations. After all, why bother to try to sell any rights at all when he can make money publishing them himself? Is that truly in his clients' best interest? Does he deserve a commission off of this sale? Is he taking a publisher's cut of the profits?

Second, a lot of folks are annoyed that he made this deal exclusively with Amazon, cutting out other retailers and platforms. Personally, I have no problem with this at all, as I've done basically the same thing with SHAKEN. If Wylie can make more money for his clients by signing with one platform, he should be able to do that without everyone whining.

The publishers, in response to Wylie, have declared they will no longer make deals with Wylie.

Now, I don't really care about the outcome of this little tiff. It doesn't effect me either way. From a purely intellectual standpoint, this is yet another mistake big publishers are making, and they're shooting themselves in the foot once again. If they want the erights, frickin' BUY them.

Publishers are punishing their customers with high ebook prices. Now they're punishing their authors. This is a big sign of an industry flushing itself down the tubes.

A smart publisher would be kissing author ass and offering them big ebook royalties, because if they don't, they're going to get cut out of the equation completely.

As for Wylie, I believe agents are set up to be great estributors, as long as the rules and guidelines are ironed out. It's a complicated issue, and could easily be abused, sort of like making your lawyer the primary beneficiary in your will. But it also gives agents a chance to do something they all really want to do; get their clients' books in front of readers.

So as the digital revolution marches forward, it looks like the writers, and maybe the agents, will be able to survive, and even thrive.

The publishers? I haven't seen any evidence yet they'll make it. But I have seen a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Since I'm a generous guy, and people often ask me for advice, I'll offer it to these three groups.

For the Writers - If you have an out-of-print backlist, or books your agent couldn't sell, or books in print that have no ebook clauses in the contract, I suggest self-publishing them as ebooks. For all other writers, first decide what your goals are, and learn as much as you can about ebooks and traditional publishing before making any hasty decisions. And, of course, make sure you're writing damn good books.

For the Agents - Wylie is taking a lot of heat, perhaps justifiably so. But remember that your clients are your authors, not the publishers who buy you lunch. If you can serve your clients by helping them epublish, you should learn how to do so. And fast, before someone else does.

For the Publishers - Stop trying to stave off the inevitable. If you want to survive, you need to start embracing ebooks, even if they cannibalize your bread-and-butter print sales. If that means downsizing and restructuring your business, do it. And you'd better start treating your authors fairly, starting with bigger ebook royalties, because the authors, and their agents, are going to figure out that once ebooks reach a tipping point, they won't need you anymore.