Could 'The Jackal' Be the Death of Publishing?

By Milmo, Cahal | The Independent (London, England), July 27, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Could 'The Jackal' Be the Death of Publishing?

Milmo, Cahal, The Independent (London, England)

Cahal Milmo reports on a deal between bookselling giant Amazon and one of the literary world's most ruthless agents

Until recently, Andrew Wylie, the doyen of literary agents, whose feral pursuit of clients and their interests earned him the nickname "The Jackal", had little time for e-book readers. When asked about his ownership of one of the gadgets hailed as the future of publishing, he said: "I used it for an hour and a half and put it in the closet."

But whatever his personal feelings, Wylie has decided to embrace the brave new world of virtual books - sparking a bitter backlash from some of the world's largest publishers and prompting talk of nothing less than the demise of 500 years of publishing history. The reason? A deal between the American agent and Amazon to sell electronic versions of works by an array of literary superstars.

Under a new digital-only imprint, Odyssey Editions, Wylie has arranged to sell 20 contemporary classics such as Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Martin Amis's London Fields exclusively through - and in so doing cut the recession-hit original publishers of those books out of a potentially lucrative source of income.

The outbreak of bad-tempered bickering in the normally outwardly sedate world of books has seen Wylie's latest initiative variously described as an "extraordinarily bad deal" and "very disappointing".

Wylie, whose roster of 700 authors from Chinua Achebe to Norman Mailer makes him one of global publishing's most influential powerbrokers, is exploiting a gap in contracts signed by writers long before e-books had been thought of, which leaves them free to negotiate separate deals to sell electronic versions.

With the sort of steely will and eye for the bottom line that helped him wrest authors such as Amis from their previous agents with six-figure deals, Wylie presented the initiative as an opening up of modern masterpieces by the likes of William Burroughs and Vladimir Nabokov to an electronic audience.

In a statement, he said: "As the market for e-books grows, it will be important for readers to have access in e-book format to the contemporary literature the world has to offer. This publishing programme is designed to address that need, and to help e-book readers build a digital library of contemporary literature."

The move has been met with a stern response from leading publishers. At a time when UK book sales have fallen by 73m copies and revenues are stagnant at 3bn, any loss of income from so-called "back list" titles by established authors who need little promotion is a bitter blow.

Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins in Britain, which has printing rights to three of the works on the Odyssey list, said: "HarperCollins will vigorously protect its rights and our authors' interests by ensuring their work gets to the broadest possible audience. The only winners in this are Amazon."

Random House, which last week announced it was severing ties with the Wylie Agency by halting any new deals with the organisation over the digital deal, told The Independent it was "in negotiations" with Amazon after it sent a letter to the internet retailer formally disputing its right to "legally sell these titles".

In a statement, Random House said that Wylie's decision to sign an exclusive deal with Amazon "undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this agency as our direct competitor".

The literary stand-off is just the latest skirmish in an increasingly frantic turf war between authors and agents on one side and publishers on the other for a slice of the growing e-books market. The battle intensified last December when Markus Dohle, German chief executive of Random House, sent a letter to literary agents declaring that the publisher's older contracts still gave it "the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats".

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Could 'The Jackal' Be the Death of Publishing?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?