Weighing the Value of the Literary Agent in the Digital Age
Ashlock echoed Gottlieb's sentiment by defining the new agent as a "radical mediator": a person who not only must mediate with the publisher, but with every other aspect of the value chain. "The publishing value chain is no longer a linear chain, from author to agent to publisher to retailer. It is more of a web. There are multiple ways to get from point A to point B."
This new breed of mediation should go beyond working with traditional publishing outlets, argued Ashlock. Along with film and TV deals, agents should represent their authors to organizations, such as non-profits or professional associations, that have similar audiences and have the capabilities to market and publish a work. "If anyone can produce books and market books more effectively than those doing it for decades, then we are open to that idea," said Ashlock.
The panel emphasized that much of an agent's traditional skillset is still incredibly beneficial for authors and the need for those skills are only heightened by the digital revolution. With Google Books' massive theft of copyrighted works and many readers' affinity for illegal downloads, agents' legal expertise on rights and licensing are more important than ever, said Gottlieb. "Author advocacy is based on a whole range of issues, and a lot of these issues deal with legality-issues agents are very experienced in."
Gardner agreed: "Not only are we advocating for our authors, but we're battling the zeitgeist of our culture. People believe that information should be free because they don't separate free information on the internet from people's [purchasable] work. We are battling that...making sure our authors get paid for the work that they've done."
Though all four panelists admitted agents face a hard road ahead, they were also eager to adapt. "We're optimistic," said Gottlieb, "Even though there are storms over the horizon, you still need to keep changing and adapting to your environment."
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Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.