The Wylie Agency's new digital publishing business, Odyssey Editions, is not going unnoticed by publishers. Odyssey Editions, which the New York Times reported on this morning, will release e-book editions of classic titles by some of the agency's clients including Philip Roth and John Updike. The move, according to Random House, may be illegal.
Odyssey Editions is set to sell titles previously unavailable in e-book formats, like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, exclusively through Amazon's Kindle Store. The venture, the Times reported, is starting with 20 titles. And agent Andrew Wylie, founder of the Wylie Agency, believes those digital rights are under his control, telling the paper that "backlist digital rights were not conveyed to publishers, and so there's an opportunity to do something with those rights."
Random House feels differently. The publisher released a statement to PW this morning saying it is "disappointed by Mr. Wylie's actions" and that it may ultimately be forced to take the unspecified action. The publisher went on: "Last night, we sent a letter to Amazon disputing [The Wylie Agency's] rights to legally sell these titles, which are subject to active Random House publishing agreements. Upon assessing our business options, we will be taking appropriate action.”
With the e-book market expanding at such a fast rate, many in the publishing industry have been assuming that agenices might start releasing their clients' work directly into the marketplace, by-passing publishers altogether. While any potential showdown here will be over backlist digital rights--and who controls them in contracts drafted long before e-books existed--industry members are looking ahead to various things like Odyssey Editions cropping up.
In a May article in PW, Scott Waxman discussed what was then a new side project for his agency, a publishing arm called Diversion Books, which offers clients e-book publication and distribution, as well as a POD option. He called Diversion "somewhere in between the big houses and the lonely road of self-publishing." Many feel, with the deep knowledge of the business that agents have, that they will continue to draw up hybrid publishing models, built around both backlist and frontlist titles.