Will e-books let agents skip publishers?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On the heels of Andrew Wylie's announcement that he has inked a deal with Amazon to sell e-book editions of classic books by Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and John Updike, Marion Maneker from the Big Money asks if literary agents will turn into digital publishers. The reasoning is that backlist titles of big name books need little publicity, and with the distribution question solved by Amazon, what's left for a publisher to do?

Once you remove the complexities of distribution from the book equation, an author has to ask herself what she gets from a publisher. After all, publicity is a function of the author's own fame, talent, or personal story. And publishing is, at its very core, nothing more than publicity plus distribution.

Ouch. I bet when people talk about digital publishing "cutting out the middle man," they often viewed agents as prime candidates to be left on the outside looking in. But with e-books, where anybody with a modicum of technical skill and/or a few bucks can produce a fine looking volume and push it out to the masses, agents and publishers sit at the same point in the food chain: as arbiters of quality, the respected editorial voice blessing a book to differentiate it from some random crank's black helicopter manifesto posted on his Blogspot site. And for high-powered agents like Wylie with access to a backlist of the great old white men of American literature, that work is already done. In a separate announcement, Wylie confirmed that he has approved plans for a new loading dock at his mansion, so trucks can pull up and unload the pallets of cash directly into his home.