The press treated the original Odyssey announcement as a bombshell--the normally sober FT intoned, "many executives fear[ed] the showdown over e-book rights would lead to the death of the 500-year-old publishing business as it is known." Yikes!
This was, ahem, an overstatement. The real issue regarding backlist e-book rights was not whether Random had a valid claim on them (they had some claim, but whether it would have prevailed in court was quite uncertain). It was simply (as I said at the time) that if Random did publish the e-books, they'd have to negotiate royalty rates, and the authors and agents involved would want higher royalties than the 25% of net that has been Random House's usual boilerplate.
The matter has been resolved, apparently with Random agreeing to some kind of sliding royalty scale on e-books that goes as high as 40%, and Wylie conceding to Random control of e-editions for 13 of his 20 Odyssey authors. This is a reasonable resolution that probably could have been arrived at with less heavy breathing all around. But press accounts of yesterday's agreement shot off in all directions. One headline said "Random House Wins Battle with Wylie," while the WSJ, apparently looking for its own angle, reported it as "Amazon Loses E-Book Deal." Evidently "the death of the 500-year-old publishing business" has been averted.
However, whether you consider it a "loss" for Wylie or his clients depends on whether you view Odyssey editions as something he was really committed to, or a great negotiating tactic. We may have a better sense of that when we see whether the Wylie agency strikes deals with Penguin, Harcourt Houghton, and the other publishers of the remaining "Odyssey seven."
It's a "win" for Random in that they are surely happy to keep the e-books of authors like Updike and Nabokov; but they are probably not thrilled to have their improved e-book royalties discussed in "the colyums." Especially if they have, as many houses do, "most favored nation" clauses in contracts with other authors. (As a precedent, it won't be cheered by other big publishers either.)
As for Amazon, I'm sure they would have loved to have exclusive e-books (though just for two years) of Lolita or Invisible Man, so this is a setback for them. But they're still going to be able to sell all those e-books on any device that can access the Kindle store, so they can cry all the way to the bank.
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