Friday, December 4, 2009


Do you think the role of the literary agent is set to change in a major way? I was reading Mike Shatzkin’s blog article about literary agents and the changing world of trade publishing:

He explores some really interesting issues about new business models and the digital revolution, and offered some views on how literary agents will need to respond to this ‘brave new world’.

Do you see big changes ahead for agents – in particular as the way authors earn their money (click per view, profit splits, self-publishing, etc) shifts? And on the flip side, what does it all mean in terms of what an author might expect from their agent – and in turn, their publisher?

Yes, I think the role of the agent will change, the same way I think the role of the author and the publisher will change. I think everything is going to change - most importantly, the way we tell stories is changing and will change, and that will affect everything else. We just don't know exactly how, which makes it hard for me to predict how my own job will change. The frustrating thing for me, at the moment, is that the Australian publishing industry is mostly lagging on the digital front. There's the odd publisher who's on top of it but the rest are way, way, way behind the US. I am trying to force some change now, when I do new deals. I ask questions about e-books, I try to get e-book publication dates. But digital publishing is still not being treated as important by any save that handful I mentioned. My biggest fear is that the sticking-head-in-sand-ness of it all is going to mean the demise of the Australian publishing industry just as much as the PIR changes would have.

So what's my changing role? Right now, it's to try to effect the change that is already under way overseas. In the future, yes, quite possibly, it's advising authors on self-publishing in the digital realm - but under the current agenting rules I'm not allowed to take commission for that, so it's not really worth my while to do it. Profit-sharing models aren't being taken up in the US and they're not even a glimmer in anyone's eyes at the moment. And, frankly, I'm so exhausted at this point of the year - after a year that has felt like a constant banging of my head against brick walls - that the prospect of keeping on top of all this change makes me want to revert to the job I'm actually qualified for, which involved five years of university study that I have not, to date, used. In order for me to properly be on top of these changes I need to hire someone to do the job I do now, so that I can spend time managing change. But there's no money for that. And that will be the challenge for Australian agencies in particular - we simply don't have the same income as UK and US agencies so we actually can't spare the time. I guess we will have to, though. I know we will have to. I just wonder when we will sleep.

1 comment:

Robert Collings said...

"Profit-sharing models aren't being taken up in the US and they're not even a glimmer in anyone's eyes at the moment."

Reminds me of the time I sat in the office of a major record label CEO (in 2002 actually) and was asked what my thoughts on the future of their business was. I replied that it would involve a profit share with the artist as they (like publishers) were simply investors.

Aside from being laughed out of the office and told, "what, give the artist half my fucking money", it's worth noting deals of this nature are now the norm in the music biz.

I have no doubt that this is exactly where publishers will end up also, and I wonder whether agents will take on more of a management role with their clients? But maybe not until after your well deserved summer break... :-)