War and Peace: Random House Reaches Truce After Amazon Betrayal

Random House and the Wylie Agency end war over Amazon’s exclusive e-book deal.

War and Peace

The war between Random House and the Wylie Agency is over, and so too is the latter’s “exclusive” deal with Amazon.


Last month, the literary agency sparked a feud with Random House after working out an exclusive arrangement with Amazon to sell e-books from 20 of the most influential authors in fiction–authors such as Salman Rushdie and Vladimir Nabokov who Random House also had agreements with. The book publisher, one of the world’s largest, then pulled its weight and severed ties with the agency.

“The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesman, in a statement at the time. “Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.”

Glossed over in Applebaum’s statement was the real heart of the matter: Publishers are concerned about losing their relevance in the digital age. Production costs of e-books are declining thanks to online distribution (Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble), and literary agencies are more and more considering breaking from traditional publishers. The Wylie Agency was one of the first to perform this coup, launching a line of e-books through Odyssey Editions, an e-publishing firm the agency started that attracted authors with offers of higher royalties. As reported by the Associated Press, traditional publishers typically offer 25% royalties for e-books–agents and authors are now hoping for 50%.

But today, the situation has been resolved, though not in the Wylie Agency’s favor. In a joint statement signed by Random House CEO Markus Dohle and Wylie president Andrew Wylie, the companies have agreed to end Wylie’s exclusive e-book deal with Amazon.

“The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House’s current e-book customers … We both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us.”

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.