Fear and Loathing in eBooks

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Fear and Loathing in eBooks

Amazon announced this morning that they’ve struck an exclusive deal with literary agent Andrew Wylie. He’s acting as a publisher for several authors he represents and has agreed to give Amazon an exclusive on 20 titles. You can check out the full press release here, but the highlights are:

Books available in the Kindle Store through Odyssey Editions include modern classics such as Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children,” Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” John Cheever’s “The Stories of John Cheever” and four novels from John Updike’s Rabbit series.

The 20 e-books published by Odyssey Editions carry an elegant and unified new look designed in collaboration with Enhanced Editions (http://www.enhanced-editions.com). Features include:

  • Newly-designed jackets
  • Interior typography adhering to best conventions of book design and reading on Kindle
  • Colophon, book covers and series design optimized for the Kindle screen

The 20 books being published by Odyssey Editions and made available exclusively on Kindle are:

  • “London Fields” by Martin Amis
  • “The Adventures of Augie March” by Saul Bellow
  • “Ficciones” (Spanish Edition) by Jorge Luis Borges
  • “Junky” by William Burroughs
  • “The Stories of John Cheever” by John Cheever
  • “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
  • “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich
  • “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer
  • “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
  • “The Enigma of Arrival” by V.S. Naipaul
  • “The White Castle” by Orhan Pamuk
  • “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth
  • “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie
  • “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sacks
  • “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson
  • “Rabbit Run” by John Updike
  • “Rabbit Redux” by John Updike
  • “Rabbit is Rich” by John Updike
  • “Rabbit at Rest” by John Updike
  • “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh

That’s a pretty impressive list of books, and it’s a major coup for Amazon. Like many things Amazon has done, it’s ruffled some feathers, including John Sargent’s at Macmillan Books. There was an “official” blog post from him on the subject today, but we’ve taken the liberty of including the “rough draft” version in red, which further clarifies the publishing industry’s response to Amazon’s wheeling and dealing…

I said I would write here occasionally, when I felt it was important to do so. It is important now. Andrew Wylie has decided to become a publisher.
Welcome, Andrew. In today’s world job functions, channels of distribution, and age-old relationships are constantly shifting. Combining the functions of agent and publisher raises serious issues that I feel strongly about, but if Andrew wants to attempt to disintermediate publishers, that is his right.

I enjoy using my company’s website as a soapbox, especially when I can make potentially controversial statements and drive people to the site.

If we cut out positions in publishing, then it’s just a slippery slope to directly selling from author to consumer, and that CANNOT BE ALLOWED. Only publishers should have the power to connect to readers. Without redundant layers of bureaucracy, where will be? Anarchy. Andrew Wylie wants anarchy! It’s un-American!

I’ll be knocking on his door shortly, asking him for dues to the AAP.

This is not a joke. We’re hard up for cash, and if he’s going to be a publisher then he’s going to pay just like everyone else.

I am appalled, however, that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer. A basic tenet of publishing is that our function is to reach as many readers as we can. We disseminate our books and the ideas within them as broadly as possible. I understand why Amazon wants an exclusive deal with Andrew. They have asked us too for exclusive product, as has every major retailer we deal with. This is smart retailing, and a great deal for Amazon. But it is an extraordinarily bad deal for writers, illustrators, publishers, other booksellers, and for anyone who believes that books should be as widely available as possible. This deal advantages Amazon, which already has the dominant share in this market.

It is terrible, dreadful really, that anyone would be in this business to make money. We here at MacMillan are NOT driven by money at all. The Agency model is for the good of the industry! We’d give books away for free if we could, but consumers wouldn’t know value then! And we’re not jealous of Amazon’s success and unwillingness to bend to our will. It’s that when we have playdates with Amazon, they never follow the rules, and they always beat us when we race together, and Amazon took our crush to the prom.

Independent booksellers across the country are making plans to launch their e-bookstores this Fall. Now they will not have these books available and Amazon will. These are the very folks who helped make many of these books bestsellers in the first place. And what of Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and others? As they promote the frontlist books for which Andrew is the agent, they are not going to be able to sell his publishing backlist in digital form . . . while their competitor can?

This is just terrible. Never, ever, in the history of capitalism, has a big company had an advantage over smaller ones. Amazon will have 20 (TWENTY) books that NO ONE ELSE WILL HAVE. Many ebookstores are limited to only having 1 million titles. Not having those 20 is going to severely damage the bookstore environment, and soon we’ll all be saluting to Jeff Bezos. Fight the power!

This move further empowers the dominant player in the market to the detriment of their competitors and creates an unbalanced retail marketplace.
In short, the exclusive-to-Kindle aspect of this deal has no strategic value at all for authors and publishers. Given the advantage for Amazon, I’m sure the deal has been financially attractive for Andrew Wylie’s new venture. In the long run, though, making literature exclusively available digitally to a single retailer will be damaging to the whole book community: authors, agents, publishers, and readers.

We don’t believe in locking down books at all. Except with digital rights management, because consumers cannot be trusted to not pirate titles. We believe all books should be available, but not portable between devices, because, again, piracy. And this deal only looks good because Amazon had the gall to pay people well for it. How dare they use their cash to further their business? Don’t they know you can’t make money in books these days? Stop pretending you can, Amazon!

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for buying books!

What’s your take on Amazon’s deal with Andrew Wylie? Are you excited, or do these books not tip you one way or the other on the ebook store wars? Share your thoughts below!

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About the Author

Carly Z
Carly has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to her first PDA (a Palm M100). She quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. She loves writing about ebooks because they combine her two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?