Just about everyone in publishing has weighed in on the Wylie Agency's decision to seize backlist e-book rights, jump into the publishing game, and sign an exclusive deal to sell e-titles only through Amazon. In the retail space, neither Barnes & Noble nor Borders would comment on the sales policy of Odyssey Editions, but independent booksellers are unhappy about the development and angered at Andrew Wylie.
While almost all independent booksellers PW spoke to recognized there is little they can do about the situation, they say they are trying to explain to their customers the significance of what's going on for the industry. They are also trying to drive home the point that exclusive retail deals like the one the Wylie Agency has with Amazon for Odyssey Editions violate the Constitution.
The ABA, although not leaning on the Constitution, is arguing that the launch of Wylie's Odyssey Editions is bad for the public. A statement from ABA CEO Oren Teicher says: "Diminishing the availability of titles and narrowing the options for readers can only harm our society in the long run.” The statement closes: "Books—in whatever format—are crucibles of ideas and unique expression, and we should be doing all that we can to expand, not constrict, readers' access to them.”
Square Books, in Oxford, Miss., takes one of the more activist approaches among booksellers. The store has mounted a window display featuring a collection of books, all of them by authors who are represented by the Wylie Agency, with a sign reading "This Book NOT for Sale.” Although those books actually are still for sale, owner Richard Howorth says, the window display is an effort "to create a visual demonstration of the possible effects of what has taken place.” The display, he continues, starts a discussion about what's happening in the industry and allows him and other booksellers at the store "to engage people on the subject of intellectual property and free expression.”
While few other booksellers have done anything as extreme as Square Books, all have expressed their dismay with Andrew Wylie. Geoffrey Jennings, who co-owns Rainy Day Books, in Fairway, Kans., says he's particularly interested in what's going on since he's an intellectual property lawyer (as well as a bookseller). Jennings questions how well Wylie thought out Odyssey Editions. "[He] knows a lot about making money, but very little about intellectual property law,” says Jennings, who predicts that the issue of who controls e-book rights will go to court, with Random House suing Wylie. While Wylie has generated lots of press for himself, Jennings wonders how the move reflects on the authors involved. He notes that most of the writers whose e-books are being published through Odyssey Editions are either dead (Nabokov, Ellison, Updike, Mailer, Thompson) or reclusive (Rushdie, Roth). "I don't think Andrew Wylie thought through how this [exclusive deal] would reflect on his clients from a public relations standpoint,” Jennings says. Wylie is messing with the legacy of well-regarded authors, Jennings adds, observing that, were he alive today, "Hunter Thompson would be beating the crap out of Andrew Wylie.”
Mark Laframboise, a buyer at Washington, D.C.'s Politics & Prose, says this is not "no harm, no foul.” But he concedes that until indie booksellers can really start selling in the digital marketplace, their hands are tied. "Until the ABA gets a way for indies to participate in the e-book phenomenon, we don't have much of a voice. We have to get our technological act together.”
Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., echoes another common refrain from booksellers: he isn't surprised Amazon is in on this deal, but is shocked a literary agency is. Although none of the booksellers PW spoke to has ever met Wylie, all are surprised that they, as people who sell the books that agents initially champion, are now competing with an agency. Petrocelli says he's thinking of mounting a display similar to the one at Square Books. He also agrees with Jennings, saying he "doubts the authors would go along with this if they were asked.”
David Del Vecchio, at Idlewild Books in New York City, says he is "puzzled” by Odyssey Editions, mainly because it seems counterproductive to what people who work in book publishing want. "I thought the main function of anyone working in publishing, from agents to editors to publicists, was to ensure the widest possible dissemination of their books. I don't see how Wylie's authors [or their heirs] are well served by an arrangement where only people with a certain type of e-reader, and one that is rapidly losing market share at that, can purchase their books.”n