BOOKS
05/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Apple vs. Amazon: Apple Made Deals With Publishers, Amazon Pursues Literary Agents

Apple and Amazon could be creating an interesting turf war over the future of books and whether eBook or print will be the primary launch format. Most major publishers have made deals with Apple for eBook content and have come to an agreement on pricing that may force Amazon to concede to higher prices for eBooks than their current insistence on $9.99.

As reported in The New York Times the major publishers, except Random House, had flocked to Apple to make deals for the books to which they already owned the rights.

When Steven P. Jobs announced the new iBooks app, he said five of the six largest publishers -- Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster-- had signed on to provide e-book content for the new tablet.

Amazon, meanwhile, may be attempting to court the literary agents who represent authors, to snatch up eBook rights before the book is sold to a publisher. Back in November, Crain's reported that Amazon

flew out a dozen of New York's top literary agents last week for a day of meetings at its Seattle headquarters. Steven Kessel, senior vice president of worldwide digital media, led the all-day presentations and discussions, which centered on Amazon's wildly successful Kindle e-reader and the future of the e-books business.

And in a more direct move in the UK, The Bookseller reports that

UK literary agents and authors have been approached directly to sell e-book rights to Amazon as it builds its Kindle e-book arsenal ahead of the UK launch of the iPad.

In a book contract is several layers of rights. There's the right to print the book on paper, bound and packaged with a cover. There are also rights to license or sell the book in other countries, and on other platforms: movies, audio, digital (eBook), among others. For decades now, the literary agents who represent writers have withheld film rights from publishers and sold them directly. In the US, eBook rights are being firmly held by the publisher.

Is Amazon testing a move in the UK to be later repeated in the US to divide the playing field against Apple? How will American publishers and literary agents respond? Will it be a good or bad thing for books if the rights are sold to many different media companies?