Conversation: Exclusive E-Books Deal Stirs Publishing World

The Next Chapter of Reading

On July 22, literary agent Andrew Wylie announced an exclusive partnership with retailer Amazon to begin selling digital versions of many classic backlist titles by authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Evelyn Waugh, Hunter S. Thompson, Salman Rushdie and many others, that would be accessible only on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.

The news that an agent was making forays into publishing brought up important questions for the future of the industry, such as who controls e-book rights for book contracts that were written in an age before digital publishing?

“In many ways, this is a small case,” says Rachel Deahl, senior news editor at Publishers Weekly. “But it’s gotten so much attention because it speaks to so many unknowns in the industry, and so many things that people are really concerned about.”

The move prompted responses from authors, agents, and from the publisher Random House, who holds publishing rights to some of the works on the list. Random House announced that it would no longer be making new deals with the Wylie Agency due to the news.

For more on the deal, the industry reactions, and the potential ramifications, I talked to Deahl by phone in New York:

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