By Rachel Deahl
Summers are supposed to be quiet in the publishing industry. That wasn't the case this year, thanks to Andrew Wylie.
When the New York Times broke the news July 22 that Wylie had launched his own publishing business, called Odyssey Editions, to release e-book versions of backlist books by some of the superagent's marquee clientele (living and dead) exclusively through Amazon, any hope of a slow summer was officially dashed.
Wylie's actions got his eponymous agency temporarily blacklisted by Random House, but did bring the boiling conversation about royalties on backlist e-books to a head. In most respects, what exactly Wylie was attempting to do with Odyssey Editions is still unknown, and differs, depending on whom you ask. Some think he was trying to make a quick buck by becoming a publisher. (As he told the Times: "The fact remains that backlist digital rights were not conveyed to publishers, and so there's an opportunity to do something with those rights.") Others think he was pushing the royalty issue. Some think he was prodding houses like Random to move faster in releasing e-book editions of classics like those on the Odyssey list, which included Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Still others say he was simply drumming up publicity.
Whatever he might have been up to, Odyssey Editions created waves and ended with Random House lifting its ban on business with Wylie's firm after Wylie agreed that the house would become the e-book publisher of its print titles initially included on the Odyssey list. (No statement was ever made about the royalty Wylie won for his clients on those titles, but it's rumored to be above the standard Random House has since said it set on backlist digital titles—a sliding scale that starts at 25% and works up to 40%.)
Although Wylie was tight-lipped about Odyssey—he responded to our questions via e-mail—he did say he was surprised by the response it generated. Asked if he thought the venture pushed the issue of the digital royalty rate to the fore, he said he thought "it contributed to, rather than initiated, the discussion."
Wylie is also keeping mostly mum about the fate of Odyssey Editions itself, which is still up and running. (A number of non–Random House titles are currently available through Odyssey Editions, including Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March.)
And what of the digital royalty rate that Odyssey Editions got people talking about? Is it fair? Wylie was also diplomatic on that topic. "I think inevitably there will be movement, but perhaps not for a couple of years."
By Craig Morgan Teicher
It may seem surprising to name a device among our publishing people of the year, but this has been a surprising year, especially where devices and their impact on publishing are concerned. The iPad has had a colossal impact on the book business in 2010, both in terms of what's already happened because of it, and the promise it holds for the future of books.
Everybody wants to be on the iPad, and, for the most part, everybody is: the iPad lets users read books from not just iBooks but from all the e-book stores—Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and, soon, Sony—via each company's apps. And then there's the App Store itself, which is brimming with stand-alone enhanced e-book apps as well as games and utilities based on books. Plus, all kinds of straight-to-iPad publications are debuting all the time: we can only assume we'll see more and more built-for-tablet books. And with Google in the e-book game, forget about it—it'll be all about the iPad.
Of course, iPad won't be the only tablet in town come 2011, but it has set the bar: every other tablet that hits the streets will be an iPad competitor, though almost certainly not an iPad killer. Whether or not E-Ink e-readers survive the tablet revolution remains to be seen, but you hardly hear anyone talking about the Kindle these days without comparing it to the iPad.
According to Apple, 7.5 million iPads have sold across the globe. That's a lot of people with screens to fill. While not all of them are reading e-books, there's no question that the iPad got lots of new device owners to try e-books for the first time while trying to squeeze as much functionality as possible out of their shiny new tablets.
The iPad may not be sentient, but it is, without a doubt, a major driving force in the book business right now, as much as, if not more than, anybody with a pulse.