As a literature lover, I spied this story in the Financial Times: according to the latest news on the e-book front, HarperCollins UK is joining Random House in its protest over the deal between literary agent Andrew Wylie and to create electronic versions of 20 classics.

Wylie’s classic collection includes Lolita, Invisible Man, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Updike’s Rabbit novels, and my personal favorite Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones.

According to Random House v. Rosetta Books, any publishing contracts negotiated prior to Random House gave the author e-rights. After Random House, all standard publish contracts now give these e-rights to publishing companies.

So Wylie, living up to his name, broke his relationship with Random House to form his own Odyssey Editions e-publishing house for his stable of classics and negotiate his own deal with Amazon.

Note: Random House still holds the print rights to these classics.

The outspoken Authors Guild, which is watching the matter closely, suggests that Wylie may be engaged in self-dealing as he is acting as both buyer and seller. The Guild also raises concerns about the exclusivity of the deal with Amazon, hinting at possible antitrust issues.

If Wylie’s deal goes through, it could substantially change the amount authors receive upon digital sale, moving their rate from 25% to 60% of the retail price, and cutting out the middle–err–publishing companies.

Viva la authors (and their estates)!

But I would like to raise another point: due to Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues, these e-books could be as nebulous as the clouds on which they reside. If DRM is initiated by the publisher, the classic is neither a classic, nor is it timeless. DRM creates a limited download that may not be preserved on your Kindle.

There are known issues surrounding the Kindle download capabilities and transfer limitations. If you buy it on the Kindle 1, you lose it on the Kindle 2. So, in essence, the consumer is merely auditing a copy that can be revoked by Amazon at any time.

So my question to Wylie and the Author Guild is, if Wylie succeeds, is he invoking DRM to limit the accessibility of these classics?

And, to add another layer, how does Wylie’s agreement interact with Google’s Book Settlement Agreement?
As I have indicated in an earlier blog, I am no fan of the Kindle. Let’s just hope Wylie has some love for the art and its artists. But I really don’t have a good feeling about this.