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Indie Booksellers Debate E-Book Drama

Mike Fleming

The Wylie Agency’s e-book exclusivity dispute with the publishing industry continues to dominate. (Random House vs Agents On E-Books) Everyone’s got a different opinion about Andrew Wylie’s decision to start his own imprint and broker an exclusive e-book deal  with Amazon. While Wylie’s actions led the Random House Publishing Group to view him as a competitor and not do business with him, his maverick move has given leverage to agents all over the lit landscape right now, one dealmaker just told me. “Publisher contract divisions are starting to acknowledge that the e-book author-house percentages are changing. They are verbally promising and writing into contracts clauses that say these percentages will be revisited when the books are published.” Now the American Booksellers Association, the guardian angel of the independent booksellers, just weighed in via their Bookselling This Week weekly membership newsletter:

Last week’s news of literary agent Andrew Wylie’s exclusive agreement with Amazon.com to publish Kindle editions of 20 backlist titles by notable writers represented by Wylie provoked strong reactions among some major publishers and elicited extensive industry discussion regarding the implications of this potential disintermediation. On Wednesday, July 21, Wylie announced the launch of Odyssey Editions and its exclusive deal with Amazon.com. Under the agreement, backlist titles by such contemporary authors as John Updike, Louise Erdrich, and Saul Bellow would be available for the first time as e-books,

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Ex-TV Boss Warns Bookstores Are Doomed

Pile of BooksLuke Johnson, former chairman of UK broadcaster Channel 4, who tried to rescue the ailing Borders chain, has warned High Street bookshops are finished. Johnson, who tried to turn UK Borders around before admitting defeat, says bookstores will be put out of business through a combination of supermarkets and the internet. Stores such as Asda and Sainsbury’s offer heavily discounted bestsellers, while you can get anything you want via Amazon.

The UK book market itself has shrunk by nearly 3% over the past 12 months.

“I bought Borders thinking we could turn it around,” he told the BBC. “I believed wrongly we could reverse the downturn in High Street book sales. It’s a great sadness that we couldn’t. In my opinion, the High Street book store is doomed.”

Publishers I’ve spoken to agree that the one-size-fits-all bookstore doesn’t have a future. But there is still room for independents that know their customers.

Christopher MacLehose, British publisher of Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), says that the collapse of Borders shows what happens when you try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to bookselling. Waterstone’s is the only national bookshop chain left in the UK after the closure of Ottakar’s and Dillons. Ironically, the collapse of Borders has left the field wide open to Waterstone’s, which has a powerful retail proposition with its three-for-two paperback offers.

When Waterstone’s was founded in 1982, it originally gave a lot of leeway to individual book … Read More »

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