Monday Midday Links: Digital is killing print and everyone wants a piece of that pie
I confess that I thought about not doing these anymore but apparently the midday links are very popular so onward!
In the eyebrow raising department, the pseudo regulatory arm of agenting in the UK is debating whether to remove the prohibit against agents as publishers. Andrew Wylie began publishing his client’s backlists. Agent Sonia Land digitally published Catherine Cookson’s backlist. In the U.S. Richard Curtis publishes backlist titles and runs ereads.com. Waxman Literary Agency runs Diversion Books, an epublishing arm. Steve Axelrod is co publishing digital backlist titles with his clients like Julie Ann Long. I view agents publishing their client’s books as a conflict of interest and believe that this activity by agents will culminate in a lawsuit in the near future. However, until such time as there is a potential financial deterrent, I would not be surprised to see more and more of these ventures in the future, for not only backlist titles, but original digital fiction.
When all of the publishers have original digital fiction lines and agents do as well, I wonder what impartial party will be advising authors as to the best place for their works?
Speaking of advice, Steve Axelrod and his client, Amanda Hocking, choose to turn down Amazon’s bid to be Hocking’s print publisher. Amazon offered the most money to Axelrod and Hocking but was turned down, presumably because Amazon’s deal required an exclusive provision (likely for the Kindle). These are the types of decisions that would be questioned in an agency publishing matter and it would be difficult for an agent to prove that turning down more money for some other distribution deal was in the best interests of the client.
Amazon is making moves to retail its print books and has signed an agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. HMH will distribute Amazon’s books in brick and mortar retail stores around the U.S. Can BN refuse to stock these? I am guessing no. Shatkzin points out that the interesting part of this deal is HMH’s statement that indicates print rights are a subsidiary now.
HarperCollins says that its 26 lending limit cap is a “work in progress” and that it is committed to listening and learning from libraries about the digital lending process.
“We try to be intelligent about our policy,” he said. “And when we landed on 26, the information that we had was that most books don’t circulate 26 times. In terms of the long tail, this particular number probably works for a different part of the collection. We realize it doesn’t work for the best sellers.”
I guess the question is whether HC is more evil for the cap or MacMillan, the sponsor of the new romance website, Heroes and Heartbreakers, and Simon & Schuster for not allowing their books to be digitally lent at all. Both Macmillan and S&S have said that the digital lending business model, as it currently exists, does not work for them.
Big money is being paid out for dystopian YA books. I suppose the interest in that genre can be traced back to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
oung adult fiction is big business. Between 2008 – when the last Twilight novel and the first Twilight film were released – and 2009, the market almost doubled in size. This year, despite sales having dropped slightly, the teenage fiction market is worth £48m, according to industry analysts Nielsen BookScan. While the Twilight saga, which has sold more than five million copies in the UK, and the Vampire Diaries series still outsell dystopian titles, the market for “paranormal romance” appears saturated.
I believe the YA market is glutted as well. YA market, as I understand it, is largely driven by the retail buyers like Barnes and Noble and school buys. With declining budgets, school buys will decrease and BN is already scaling back on the number of books it is putting on the shelves. Everywhere I turned at RWA, a romance author was hawking her YA book. The rumor is that BN sales of YA PNR is down 25%.
Also down are print sales. And this is all the fault of digital book sales.
According to new sales data coming from the US and UK first quarter sales in the US are down a full 9% in volume on last year, from 178m in the first quarter of 2010 to just over 162m this year….marked drop in fiction sales on both sides of the Atlantic, with the UK down 9.8% on 2010 figures in the first quarter, and the US down a massive 19.3%. According to Nielsen figures, fiction is the dominant e-book genre, taking a share of 70% compared with its print share of 30%.
Said Nowell: "We can surmise that e-book sales may be affecting fiction more than other genres, and responsible for the steep downturns in the US and UK.”
Maya Rodale has an interesting piece about the gentleman’s club known as White’s. It still exists today. It is still as exclusionary and likely as misogynistic as it was when it was founded. It’s like Augusta National, the home of the golf tournament called The Masters. No girls allowed.
Glad to hear the Midday Links posts were saved–I love them!
I too love the midday links.
When all of the publishers have original digital fiction lines and agents do as well, I wonder what impartial party will be advising authors as to the best place for their works?
This. I posted about this very issue on my blog from RT because the rumblings I was hearing of more and more agents going in this direction really concerned me. Why would we trust agents to have their clients’ best interests (rather than their own) in mind any more than we trust publishers to have authors’ best interest in mind? Pretty soon, authors are going to need agents to negotiate with their agents who have become publishers.
More love here.
Please keep bringing us these Midday Links.
I don’t expect this blog to cater to my personal taste but the midday links make up for days you review books in subgenres that don’t interest me. Because the midday links are ALWAYS interesting! Please keep them if you can.
Glad you’re keeping Midday Links, Jane. I often don’t have enough time to browse the web myself and find the tidbits you collect illuminating. Thanks!
Very interesting news in today’s links. Thanks for continuing to bring them to us.
At B&N over the weekend, it seemed like half the YA paranormal authors on the shelf were authors I first read as adult paranormal or urban fantasy: Sherrilyn Kenyon, Richelle Mead, Rachel Caine, etc.
At RWA in 2009, there was a seminar on choosing your genre. A YA writer spoke, basically talking about how a lot of previously published authors were moving into YA because it was hot, even though their voices and storylines were not necessarily YA appropriate. I’ve been curious ever since about how successful (or not) those authors who tried to transition have been. If authors who’ve been successful in genre romance are still moving into YA, then I would have to assume that it has been a good career move for them.
Am also curious if the fall in sales is a natural function of reader fall off now that Twilight has begun to age, or if it’s just another cycle, like erotic romance, which used to be everywhere but seems to be tapering off a little.
What everyone else said. Midday links are love. =)
Love the Midday Links! I have to wonder why so many authors feel compelled to move into genres they previously haven’t written in. For example, Brockmann, long a champion of contemporary romance, is now writing a new paranormal series. Same with a slew of authors moving into YA because it’s hot. I wonder if they’re successful in these genres or if there’s pressure from their publishers to write in the genres that are hot sellers. With name recognition, there’s sure to be built-in sales, I would think. For example, I read almost no paranormal, but I’ll pick up Brockmann’s new series when it’s out because I love the way she writes. I wonder if these authors get the pressure from their agents and publishers to write in these genres or if they have the interest independently…I know Roxanne St. Claire is also currently writing a YA novel…
I’m cautious about the new dystopian YA craze, mainly because I love the genre but it’s so easy to get wrong. Most of this year’s releases that I’ve seen reviewed have been decidedly mixed. I think it definitely has something to do with following trends. The first big teen release after Harry Potter was Twilight so we had a whole splurge of paranormal romance YA follow in its footsteps, then post-Twilight we had The Hunger Games, later rinse repeat. Wonder what’s next. *fingers crossed for lesbian freedom fighting princesses because I have a WIP that could totally jump on that bandwagon!*
I am over the whole YA thing, maybe becasue of my resentment of authors I like taking time away from writing grown up books to start their new YA series. I know that is their right. Bitterness doesn’t have to follow logic.
For a lot of readers, and perhaps writers, YA can be fun because the other genre distinctions aren’t so crucial. I love cross-genre fiction, and I’ve found some really interesting books in the YA section. And while dystopian may be hotter because of the Collins books, it’s hardly a new sub-genre; Lord of the Flies or The Giver, anyone? This stuff goes in cycles, so some authors will “catch the wave,” some will miss it, and some write so well that it really doesn’t matter which genre they choose. I hope that authors shifting (ha!) to paranormal or YA aren’t just doing it as career moves, though; I’ve heard some authors comment on their choices, and they at least SOUND like they genuinely want to write in a different genre.
I admit that I can’t get too worked up about the agent-as-publisher thing. I can see the concern about conflict of interest, but really it goes to ethics. There have been, and will continue to be, unscrupulous agents, as well as publishers, booksellers, even attorneys. Authors, like the rest of us, need to be looking out for themselves and building a relationship of “trust but verify” when acting on someone else’s advice. Agents who are conscious of how their reputation attracts or drives away clients will conduct themselves ethically and professionally, however the marketplace options change. Those who don’t, won’t, but I expect they don’t now, either.
I agree that agents shouldn't be publishers.
That said, I really wish more authors would make their backlists available in digital for reasonable prices.
I don’t read YA, don’t write it, but yes, I did hear that market will be closed in the near future, ie agents and publishers will be disinclined to buy new authors unless something really special turns up (you always have to put that last bit in – vampires were dead until Twilight).
The agent thing really concerns me. I think that an agency, not just individual agents, shouldn’t act for clients that they also publish.
Speaking of YA and trendiness, this showed up in the news.
I read somewhere on the Web the “author interview” with Ms. DeStefano, Wither. She said that she wrote this book in ONE month. Was she in a YA Distopian rush?!
Correct me if I am wrong,
I think the real problem is not unscrupulous agents; I think it’s that when an agent — or any fiduciary — is in a position where their own interests are inherently in conflict with their clients’ it’s not always possible to make the “right” decision. Or more specifically, it’s much more difficult to determine what the more ethical, most clean decision is. Thus the myriad rules and licensing requirements for most agent-principal relationships in real estate and law, for example. IMO it’s just a bad idea to put fiduciaries in positions where their own financial interests can so easily become primary, potentially without the agent or principal even discerning the shift.
IIRC, Eric Hellman argued that Macmillan and S&S were more honest in their policies, but I’m not sure I agree. After all, at least HC is participating in digital and is now willing to take a second look at a very unpopular (and IMO ridiculous) policy. John Sargent’s comments on both digital books and library use have been pretty frustrating to me. I have to say, though, that I’ve been surprised at the lack of discussion in the Romance community about Macmillan’s attempt to establish a presence in the Romance community on the backs of readers/bloggers when its agency pricing and digital lending policies are so hostile to Romance readers, who represent such a strong element in the digital market and library patronage. I suspect some of that radio silence has to do with respect for the many excellent readers and authors blogging for H&H (this has been a large part of my own hesitation), but it’s still curious to me.
@Sorilla: I don’t know anything about Ms. DeStefano, but there’s something called National Novel Writing Month, in which loads of writers (reportedly 200,000 in 2010) think it’s a swell idea to produce a book in 30 days. One enormously famous author routinely has four to six new releases a year, so she’s not investing a lot more time into hers. If you want to quit your day job to write, your options are lightning-strike fame, marry rich, or quantity, quantity, quantity.
Agent + Becoming Exclusive ePublishers = Hilarity
What should happen is agents turn into business managers who handle all the aspects of an author’s career, take care of the production/distribution details of their books, AND be their PR. Because the thing most authors need is PR. An agent-cum-business manager who promised PR would be a gold mine for a writer who just wanted to write but was otherwise tempted toward self-publishing.
So the label “agent” becomes “business manager” and the contracts get adjusted accordingly. No more fiduciary conflict issues.
But I said that a year and a half ago. http://moriahjovan.com/mojo/doc-mcghee-literary-agent
Thank you for the midday links. I like them, too!
As for YA, I have noticed the trend of big adult authors (James Patterson, Grisham, etc) branching into YA. If I’m James Patterson, I’m figuring that Dad or Mom is at the bookstore, trying to get Junior or Juniorette to read, and they notice the Grisham name, or the James Patterson (TM) name, and they latch onto the book. “Aha! Junior will LOVE this one.”
Also, as a lot of authors, stars, etc, have kids who are in their reading years, I think they want to write a book/movie for their kids, as opposed to writing it for themselves. I can really understand that.
As for dystopian YA, I predict the end is near. :) Sorry, just had to say that.
I am really thinking about the role that agents play in the new world. I have no problem with some set of people functioning as e-distributors. I have no problem with an agent brokering deals and helping to regulate the author-publisher relationship.
I feel uneasy thinking about a world in which those hats are vested in one person. That puts the “agent” (and I call this person an “agent” for lack of a better word when one of those hats is not a principal-agent relationship, as best as I can tell) in a position where they advocate on behalf of the author in some author-publisher relationships, and in fact are the publisher in other author-publisher relationships.
At that point, when an agent tells me what is reasonable for me to expect from my publisher, she’s no longer just speaking as a knowledgeable person about my relationship with someone other than you; she’s also talking about what my relationship with her must be like. And so I worry that an agent who simultaneously publishes will not be able to go to the mat for her clients with traditional publishers when push comes to shove.
It’s not that I think this will be a conscious effort on the agent’s part, one that can be solved as long as everyone gets their inoculation of ethics. It’s that once someone dons a publisher’s hat I’m not sure it can come off easily. That’s why ethics are so tricky.
That being said, I don’t see how agents will have much choice. Advances are shrinking. Fewer and fewer midlist authors are getting contracts. There really isn’t enough business being done in traditional publishing to keep all the agents out there in bread and butter, and that dollar figure is going to shrink.
But any time we have a relationship being redefined, there is going to be a conflict. I can’t see how to avoid this one–a conflict of interests arises if an agent avoids self-publishing, too, because if she has no financial stake in it, she may subconsciously want to steer clients away from it when it’s in their best interest to do it.
So they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I don’t have a good answer for this, except to say that right now, I’m glad I’m not an agent.
Just chiming in to share my love of midday links–it is one of my favorite things about this blog. I love the news you share about the world of publishing, the behind scenes peeks, and the legal news.
*gasp* How else would I get my book news? I’d have to actually read the publishing and tech blogs in my feedreader instead of skimming the titles while saying “if it’s important, Jane’ll post about it!”
Another thank you for the midday links. I get a lot out of it.
I don’t know about agents-as-publishers–except that I wouldn’t get into that kind of agreement unless it was called something else. Like a publishing deal. And like someone mentioned above, I’d want an agent-only to negotiate that deal.
For me, it’s not worth giving anyone a percentage–forever–of my royalties when I self-publish to Kindle and Nook and elsewhere. If I can’t do the work myself (ie, copyediting), I pay that person upfront and that’s it. As Dean Wesley Smith (I think it’s him) says, you don’t give the gardener a percentage when you sell your house years later.
But others might find it worth their time to give a percentage from the top for all the hassles of self-publishing. Maybe even most writers would. We’ll see… It’s an exciting time.
@Courtney Milan I don’t disagree that agenting is changing dramatically but I don’t think the law changes simply because the business model changes. Unless the fiduciary relationship is severed in some way, I think agents place themselves in legally precarious positions by having a self publishing arm. Can a Chinese wall (seriously need a new and better term for that) be erected to remove any whiff of self dealing?
Let’s just examine, for a minute, the backlist self published title that is self published in concert with an agent. One such book sells for 7.99 the last I checked, the same price as her front list titles and not really in line with other backlist titles being self published. Who is setting the price there? Do we know if the author would sell more at a lower price point (I suspect yes but that is just a suspicion). If the agent is setting the price, can he be accused of not dealing in her best interests by setting the price too high? Too low? Should he have tried to broker a deal with a digital publisher? How about try for an exclusive Amazon deal? It’s very very murky.
Just want to chime in to say how much I like midday links as well. I’m routinely surprised at seeing many of my favorite tech blogs covering e publishing related stories days or even up to a couple of weeeks after I’ve read about something in ML.
@Jane: Oh, I completely agree. I don’t have any of the answers to that. This is more my way of saying that there are issues no matter what.
I think that there may be a way for an agent to set up digital distribution in some way that makes it truly a principal-agent relationship–if the client literally calls all the shots, but then what is the agent’s value-add? It’s a really hard question. For the agents.
I agree that the agent issue is complex, but I think a redefinition of roles is inevitable given the changes in publishing. MoJo is right; it has to be worth it for some (many? most?) authors looking to publish digitally to have someone else find the people to do the stuff other than writing. And Courtney’s right, agents are in a tough spot, and figuring out how to navigate new publishing is going to be tricky. But I think the value add-on can be the knowledge and connections (and yes, PR) that the agent/manager can provide. And the advice, since once an author makes the choice to publish outside of a traditional publishing house, the decisions that make money for both agent/manager and author will be the same.
Please….keep the midday links information coming…..I love them!!!
My library network regularly has waiting lists of 25 to 30 for popular e-books, and that includes a lot of books that aren’t best sellers. That’s the people who want read the book today.
The waiting lists rarely grow much beyond 30 because you can only be on 3 waiting lists at a time and 30 people is a good year’s wait to read the book.
While it’s clear my library network is underserving readers of e-books, it’s also clear that a ceiling of 26 is way too low.
I am completely ignorant about the ways of publishing, but my reaction at the news about the late Catherine Cookson’s books was jubilant. All I picked up on was that here was someone, her Charitable Trust via her literary agent, who was thinking about readers, about getting books into *our* hands at a reasonable price, and to hell with the standard/historical publishing model.
“In recent years, [the publishers] have shown little interest in marketing or exploiting the Cookson brand. It is a wake up call for the industry,” her agent was quoted as saying.
Can someone tell me why, since the Trust appears to own the rights to the books, this isn’t a good situation for all of us? I thought this is exactly the kind of news authors and readers of digital books would want to hear, but I have clearly misread the tea leaves.
Kresley Cole is another romance author trying her hand a YAs.
I love YAs and I’ll admit to being a little bit leery of all the traditional romance authors jumping on board. I’m hoping it doesn’t get to be too much of a good thing and overtire the market or, God forbid, change it. What I love about YA is that I can get pretty much any story I want. There don’t seem to be as many restrictions on YA stories as there are in adult romances.
@Darlynne Readers getting backlist titles is awesome. The less awesome thing is the changing role of the agent into a publisher. Agents (at least in the US) are fiduciaries. They hold a position of trust with the author. The law recognizes this as a special relationship and one in which the trusted person can take advantage of the other. In order to prevent this, there are legal barriers in place between the agent and the author (or the fiduciary and the principal as it is known in the law). A fiduciary is held to a standard of conduct above that of an ordinary business relationship. The fiduciary must act in the best interests of the client and when there is self dealing or conflicts, the fiduciary has to prove that he or she is without wrongdoing. It’s actually very hard for a fiduciary to do this. Thus the agents who act as publishers, diverting deals away from other publishers to the agent’s own publishing endeavor will come under scrutiny by the court. It’s agents who are in danger in this scenario, more than anyone, I think.
@SonomaLass I guess I disagree with your comment on a number of levels. As I explained in the comment to Darlynne and referred to in my comment to Courtney, the law isn’t changing as it relates to fiduciaries (agents) and their dealings with their clients. So yes, the agent may very well be able to provide these value added services because of their knowledge and connections. That isn’t the issue. The issue is whether these agents will be able to sufficiently defend the claims of self dealing in a court of law. I submit that it will be very difficult for them to do so, not because they aren’t acting in the best interests but because it will be hard to prove that when the presumption, in court, is that they did not.
Leaving ethics and law to those who speak the language, I still think I’d have trouble trusting an agent who also published or co-published digitally the works of his clients. As an author, if he came to me and told me he’d exhausted all the traditional possibilities but he thought we could make some money digitally publishing my book together, wouldn’t I always wonder on some level if he’d really tried?
My husband disagreed with me. He thinks the agent would choose the path that made him the most money on the book, which would presumably make the author the most money, so therefore the interests are the same. But it just feels a little wrong to me.
@Shannon Stacey: I think the only way that this works is if the agent takes no more from a self publishing/digital publishing deal than the original agreemtn (i.e 15% of your royalty). Otherwise, the agent makes more if she directs the author to the agent’s own publishing endeavor.
In other words, if the agent gets 15% of your royalty everywhere else but 50% of the royalty (less costs) through the digital publishing arm of the agent, there is a financial incentive for the agent to push the author toward the digital publishing arm of the agent.
Putting on my writer’s hat for a minute. (Oh, THAT’s where I put that half-eaten sandwich!) When a subgenre gets popular, like YA or paranormal, writers probably read more of it because there’s more of it available in books, tv, movies, etc. Writers were readers first and will be readers to the bitter end! So it may be that exposure is what gets their brain pistons firing as much as advice from agents or the desire to follow a trend. I also agree with what several people said about YA having fewer expectations, in particular with how the “romance” portion of the program tends to progress.
Someone also mentioned writers having an urge to write something their kids can read. I can vouch for that! Not that I’ve done anything about it, but the urge is there.
@ Shannon Stacey: I’m assuming the “digital co-publishing” options the agents would be pursuing would be the same ones self-publishing authors use, which shovel 70% of sales to the author, as opposed to the 30-ish% trad pubs offer. A 15% cut of 70, on the surface at least, looks better than a 15% cut of 30-ish, so how many would push their clients really hard toward the 30-ish?
Also, if agents are providing an expanded array of services beyond their traditional role, won’t they want to increase their percentage? Will their old “just agent” 15% clients be neglected in favor of new “co-publishing” higher-rate clients, or pushed toward the higher tier and dumped if they don’t jump on it?
It seems to represent a power shift in the author-agent relationship, and I can’t find a perspective from which it looks like a positive change.
In theory, you’d think this would be true, but in practice, I don’t think it is. After all, if it were true that an author’s and a publisher’s interests always ran in concert, we wouldn’t need agents to negotiate the most favorable contract terms for us in the first place. As soon as the agent becomes the publisher, there’s a real question of whether that agent can be said to be acting in the author’s best interests or his/her own.
When the only way for an agent to earn his/her commission is to sell the book to a third party on the best possible terms, there’s no question at all of the agent’s interests and the author’s running in tandem. But when there is always another way to make money, the agent always has a “way out.”
Not to mention the other problems you run into when the agent becomes the publisher. All of the terms your agent negotiates for you (such as when the rights to the book revert to the author) as well as decisions about price points, cover art, cover copy, etc. still have to be wrangled. I would rather not be in the position of arguing these point with my agent, whom I view as my representative in negotiations, not because I fear she’d be out to screw me, but because I wouldn’t know for certain what the standards ought to be for this kind of arrangement without someone “in the know” between us.
Actually, I think there may be a financial incentive to push the author toward the digital publishing arm even if the royalty rate to the agent remains 15%. The reason is because that 15% would be taken off either 35% (for books at the .99-2.98 price point and >$10.00) or 70% (for the $2.99-$9.99 range books) rather than from the 6%-15% an author typical earns on each sale in a standard print publishing contract. I did a little math on this when I posted to my blog last week, and it’s pretty clear that it’s likely to be far easier for the agent to earn $1,500 (the agent’s share of a $10,000 advance) by digitally publishing the book in the 70% royalty range rather than selling it to a traditional publisher. And I suspect a $10,000 advance would be considered generous for a debut/low midlist author these days.
Like Courtney, I have a lot of sympathy for the bind agents are in right now, and I’m not entirely opposed to agents offering the coordination of digital publishing to their authors as a service, but I’d prefer to see that as a fee-for-service arrangement that leaves the rights to publish and most creative decisions in the hands of the author rather than in the hands of the agent. And then, of course, you run immediately into the question of whether agents have just become vanity presses or run afoul of the “agents don’t charge fees” prohibition.
Whee! Interesting times, my friends. Interesting times.
@Joy: I can only wholeheartedly second Joy’s comment about the Midday links.
@Jackie Barbosa and @Shannon Stacey:
If an agent wants to take more than 15%, it’s an automatic conflict of interest, no question–if the agent’s taking 30% of a publishing deal and 15% of a non-publishing deal, that’s a no-brainer to me in terms of conflicts of interest.
But Jackie’s right–what is it that the agent is asking for, in exchange for that 15%? Are they asking for an exclusive right to distribute your title for the life of the copyright? Because that’s a lot to ask for in exchange for what amounts to an initial setup with little ongoing maintenance–I don’t give my agent exclusive rights to the income stream for books that she sells; she only gets money for the life of the contract, and there’s substantial ongoing maintenance of those contracts in terms of the publisher-author relationship.
Shifting from a model in which your agent negotiates FOR you to one in which your agent negotiates WITH you is really tough, and that’s where a conflict of interest arises.