There's been some recent hubbub about agent Andrew Wylie's deal with Amazon--to exclusively sell backlist for a list of big-name/legendary authors in e-book form. The exclusivity lasts two years, and while I have my own personal issues with bookselling in any format as exclusive, that's not what I want to talk about.
What struck me as most interesting in this whole debacle is that a major agency took it upon itself to deal directly with a major distributor. That's a paradigm shifting move for the publishing world. Wylie's e-book imprint, Odyssey Editions, is in essence a brand new publisher. The agent and authors (and author's estates) through direct-dealing like this they will garner more revenue because they've cut out 'the middle man'.
And millions of dollars for said middle man. Random House and MacMillan did not take kindly to the slight. Which is completely understandable--this one agency yanked a considerable percentage of their backstock control. Check out Wylie's client list and be in awe!
(Whether or not the exclusiveness to one reader, the Kindle, will pay out gigantically remains to be seen in the next couple years. Predictions of e-book reading say that up to 50% of all reading in the next 5 years will take place on an e-book reader like Kindle, but the price wars on e-books and e-book readers hasn't balanced out yet, so putting all your eggs in one basket might mean that until the exclusivity time is up, there aren't as many readers for those particular e-books. For example: EBook Reader Choices)
But my question is this: After the litigation over rights, and who really controls them, settles, who will be left in the power seat? For over a century, it has been the publishing houses. They've merged and remerged and mergered to become gigantic and powerful industries. Agents and agencies were built to protect author's rights, and have since become the essential 'gatekeepers' for the publishing houses.
Now those lines have been blurred. An agency is acting as a publisher--though right now with only backstock titles for authors and their estates who are already established, and only over this one format. But as e-books and their popularity rise, and as the technology becomes more diseminated, you can't tell me that people who have trained in publishing (an inordinate amount of agents have edited for big houses, or worked for them in some capacity) might not think that this would be the way to go: take your clients and distribute those e-books yourself.
Good, bad, ugly, or Betty? I guess we'll find out!