Harry Potter, Borders, Agents and More

by Amanda S. Green

The last couple of weeks in the publishing industry have been interesting.  Of course, “interesting” can mean a number of different things — and does — whenever applied to publishing.

The REALLY BIG NEWS, at least in that it answered what had become one of the most asked questions the last few years, was the announcement that J. K. Rowling would finally be bringing the Harry Potter books out in digital format.  As the cheers from all the fans of the series died down, a few interesting facts came to light.  First, Rowling will be selling the books directly through her Pottermore website.  There is an interesting side note to the announcement of the Potter e-books.  With the launch of Pottermore, Apple will apparently be losing its rights to sell the Potter audiobooks, something it has held the exclusive rights to since 2005.    I give a hat tip to Rowling for deciding not to limit her books to a single digital format and for deciding to go DRM-free.

The next item is the latest in the ongoing debacle that is Borders Books.  Thursday, Borders reached an agreement to sell an “undisclosed” number of stores to Najafi Companies.  If I read the article correctly, the basic impact is this:  if the sale goes through as agreed, any stores not included in the Najafi deal will be liquidated.  If the deal doesn’t go through, all stores will be liquidated.  Either way, Borders as we know it will no longer exist in a very short time.

Then there is Amazon’s ongoing battle with different states over taxation issues.  The Amazon affiliate program has already been discontinued in states like Colorado.  Now California has seen its affiliate program ended after the state passed legislation requiring companies like Amazon to collect sales tax on items sold to California residents.  Barnes & Noble, predictably, is lauding the decision by the California legislature, saying it will help save brick and mortar bookstores.  The sad thing is that it won’t.  All it does is help take income out of the pockets of individuals who were using the Amazon affiliate program to supplement their income.  I won’t go into whether Amazon — or any other company — should be required to collect taxes for items someone else is selling because I’d be straying far over the political line in the sand.

On the litigation front, Alaska’s Senate Bill 222 has been ruled unconstitutional.  The bill would have “made anyone who operates a website criminally liable for posting material deemed “harmful to minors.”  The bill was viewed as having a chilling effect on free speech and it was noted that there are reasonable technological steps that can be taken to insure minors don’t view material they shouldn’t.  (Like those really work…but that’s another story)

With all the speculation abounding right now concerning agents as packagers/publishers/whatever, Anne R. Allen has a great post wondering if agents are now an endangered species.  Allen takes a look at different roles agents might play in the future and what those roles would mean for their clients.  I recommend everyone read this post and consider what she has to say.  Especially when it comes to the possibility of agents adding “draconian” language to their contracts with writers.  Some agents are already doing this and, frankly, it sucks for an author.

Along this same line, Dystel and Goderich announced it will be ” working its clients through the digital self-publishing process”.  On the agency blog, they had this to say:  We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work.  We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid.  In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

Now, this language can be interpreted a number of different ways.  But what jumps out to me — and I may be wrong — is that for 15% of your sales, you get to talk to them about cover design, editing, etc., but you still have to pay for those out of your pocket.  Where is the win in that?

For the pro side of the argument of agents being packagers/consultants, check out this post.

It all comes down to this — how ethical is the agent or agency and what, exactly, are the services the agency is providing that self-published author for the 15% they are charging?

Finally, if you haven’t already checked out the latest post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, do so.  It is very easy to think that we are alone in what we go through as writers, especially when it comes to selling — or not selling — our latest title or trying to decipher the maze of royalty statements.

Needless to say, the next few months and years are going to be interesting ones in the industry.


  1. I think the move by Dystel and Goderich is another in the transformation of agents into business managers.

    No doubt there will be shysters who will take your money, do the bare minimum to put your book online, and make their money from raking off a commission from the cover artists and e-book converters etc. they employ to actually do the work.

    But they may also be able to help you get your backlist up(if you have one) and let you get back to spending your time on writing rather than “back office” jobs that a writer without a publisher is having to deal with now.

  2. A very, very good post. I’m looking forward to exploring your post’s links. I wish I could have more empathy for agents in general. I find it difficult. The policies they’ve followed have produced their current woes.

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