The news that Random House had "won" its showdown with The Wylie Agency, over the inclusion of titles by its authors in Wylie's backlist digital publishing business Odyssey Editions, spread through publishing circles quickly on Tuesday, after Random House and Wylie released a joint statement. The statement said that Random House will now be the exclusive e-book publisher of its 13 titles originally part of Odyssey Editions and that, as a result of the agreement, Random House will lift its ban on doing business with the agency.
Random House corporate spokesperson Stuart Applebaum, who would not comment on the digital royalty rate Random House and Wylie reached, said that the publisher has made Nabokov's Lolita and a handful of the other 13 titles available to e-book retailers across the country already. (Currently, Lolita is available as a Kindle edition on Amazon, though the e-tailer still indicates the book is available only in the Kindle format and that the publisher is Odyssey Editions.) Applebaum said Random House hopes to deliver the other titles to its various e-book retailers "within the week." (One aspect of the Odyssey deal that was the most criticized was that titles were being sold only through Amazon.)
While Applebaum held the line on the question of the digital royalty rate--he said that "Random House has been engaging in ongoing and productive conversations relating to e-book rights for certain Random House backlist titles and the arrangement reached with The Wylie Agency to now publish these particular titles as e-books in the United States is consistent with agreements we've reached with other literary agents"--one high-placed source with direct knowledge of the rights talks said the house has quietly been offering agents a better deal on backlist e-book rights for a brief period now.
The source said Random is offering a royalty, on digital editions of backlist titles, built around a sliding schedule that can approach 40% "rather quickly." The source explained that the royalty is based on a certain number of books selling over a specified period of time and, depending on what's negotiated, the rate will rise per the rate of sale.
The presumption is that Random House's improved offer on backlist digital royalties--the source said this new approach is a "good rate" and notably better than the standard 25%--will spark the other major houses to follow suit with similar offers.
Thus far, though, the other houses are not talking. Simon & Schuster, which publishes Oliver Sachs's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, one of the titles still included in Odyssey Editions, declined to comment on whether it was in talks with The Wylie Agency to bring that e-book edition in-house. Likewise, Penguin, which publishes Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, another Odyssey Editions title, would say little. A spokesperson for the publisher released this statement: "Penguin Group has had conversations with Andrew Wylie regarding the books in the Odyssey Editions program and those conversations are ongoing."
Another insider, when asked if Odyssey Editions was, more than anything, an attempt by Wylie to raise the digital royalty rate on these backlist titles--and, moreover, to simply get them published--scoffed at that notion. "This was all about starting Odyssey Editions and taking advantage of [the marketplace]," he said. "[Wylie] never expected a company like Random House to take the position it would no longer do business with him."
Andrew Wylie did not respond to questions about the fate of Odyssey Editions.