Well, well, well, the phrase "a turn up for the books" has rarely been more apt. MacMillan is less than impressed that agent Andrew Wylie has gone digital with his client list, all of whom signed on before ebooks were a twinkle in Amazon's eye and thus did not assign digital rights.
While I agree it is a conflict of interest for an agent to turn publisher, I also feel that authors who haven't signed away digital rights should not be obligated to sign with their print publisher.
"But ... but ..." cry the naysayers, "publishers depend on backlist titles". And they do, but they are also offering authors a measley 25% at present, where self ebook publishing can provide as much as 80%
(and Wylie is offering considerably more than 30% thanks to the deal he has done with Amazon). There is also, at present, very little evidence that publishers will be able to sell ebooks in larger quantities than the big players will, e.g. Apple, Amazon, as the method of distribution is the same (and exceedingly cheap compared with distribution of old) and most ebook lovers will head to the big store fronts rather than direct to the publisher. So I do believe that until publishers start to feel the loss of authors, and authors start to reap the rewards, big publishers better prepare themselves for the inevitable drop in their bottom line or work out equitable business relationships with authors that will alleviate the problem. Some publishers such as the newly formed Pantera Press and Cursor are doing just that.
Canny publishers will be trying to negotiate digital rights with the authors on their list now, and offering them something more than 25% RRP. Here's a good article to check out about the skirmish.