Whatever one’s thoughts on the issues he’s discussing, Mike Shatzkin’s latest piece is required reading for agents.
I think it’s safe to say that the old joke about Jews and opinions is true of agents and what they think of the various and sundry ways agents are developing new business models (i.e. two agents, three opinions). It’s a complicated and touchy subject that gets argued about every time two agents cross paths in this little village we call publishing. People of good faith disagree sharply about the consequences of agents’ publishing or agents’ announcing that they have a self-published author representation model; I know I’ve debated these topics ad nauseum, and we’re not done having these conversations.
That said, there is a wealth of argument available to read online, if you want to dig deeper after following the link to Mike’s post. For example, you could read Peter Cox of Redhammer UK’s aggressive position that agents should never publish their clients’ books. Or you could read BookEnds’ post on their new digital self-publishing strategy (if you do, read the comments, which are filled with arguments back and forth about the wisdom of this approach, from every perspective). There’s fairly endless point-counterpoint to be found.
Here’s the real issue: every one of us knows that our businesses are changing. And every one of us is going to make decisions to keep our businesses vibrant and to protect our clients’ interests. My hunch, though, is that different agents and agencies — with different histories, different client lists, different approaches — are going to make very different decisions on these issues, with the net result being that, five years from now, our businesses will look quite different from one another. Five years ago, every agency essentially offered the same services (with some subtle differences from agency to agency) based on the same business model — I think it’s impossible to believe that five years from now that will still be true. Some agencies are going to look very much like they did five years ago; some agencies are going to look strikingly dissimilar.
This is all absolutely inevitable. Is it healthy? Is it good for writers? Is wading through very diverse sets of service offerings going to make it even more challenging for authors to figure out who should represent them? Are we all still going to be recognizably “agents,” for that matter?
Discuss! (And you should, because these are existential questions about the futures of our businesses.)