The Allure of the Rheingold


Drama has taken hold of the publishing world. The events that are currently unfolding might lead to the total annihilation of book publishers  – picture-rheingoldor so they say.


In case you haven’t followed the nail biting saga, let me fill you in – it’s a classic really with lots of big baddies.


The main part is played by a mega big agent, called Andrew Wylie, known as “The Jackal.” He has some 700 authors, among them mega big clients, such as Phillip Roth and John Updike,  and some of the big authors are published by the mega publisher, Random House. As you can see, it’s all very mega, very Wagnerian indeed. And everyone is after the Rheingold.


Wylie has now taken 20 of his big clients straight to amazon ( another mega), bypassing Random House, to sign a two-year deal for their ebooks. The deal allows amazon exclusive distribution rights for these works through its Kindle reader. Random House is outraged – rightly so – because after all they made those writers famous and they feel that they deserve to own the ebook rights instead of some online supermarket.


All fingers point at the Jackal. He apparently is the ultra meany in this play, the Alberich of the publishing world,  his greed drove him into the arms of amazon who are desperate to promote their little Kindle machine. It’s also the first time that a publisher has been blatantly shown it’s place in the new world order of paper free texts – with obliteration lurking around the corner.


That’s true. But what about the authors, are they innocent in all of this? Wylie is only their agent – more a Fafnar than a Alberich – he couldn’t have done anything if they hadn’t given him the green light. So, perhaps it is their greed that is driving it all. Shame really because I can’ t help feeling that the authors involved have already earned enough to live happily ever after. Shouldn’t they have shown some loyalty towards their publishing house? I think so.


However, I wouldn’t go as far as feeling sorry for Random House. For now, all that is happening up there on the big stage, is that Fafnar and Fasolt – Random and Wylie, with amazon a happy onlooker – are hitting each other around the head, each desperate for the ring. Eventually one will get killed, the other turn into a dragon and Valhalla will go up in flames and with it the publishing world as we know it.


But is that a bad thing? My nymph and me don’t think so. It’s high time for a good shake up. At the moment, we are sitting in the auditorium, hugely entertained by the events up on stage. By the end we will give the actors a huge applause. They will surely be totally exhausted, poor darlings. Peirene, in the meantime, will be energized, with lots of lessons learnt, ready to rebuild the publishing Valhalla. Perhaps slightly less grand. But where surely everyone will be far happier, striving towards the common goal of producing good literature and making it widely available.

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