Brave New World reports that PFD Literary Agency in the UK is entering a print on demand agreement with Lightning Source. Through this enterprise PFD will be able to republish out of print works by its authors and literary estates.

This clearly throws the gauntlet down on rights reversals and opens up all sorts of potential opportunities for both authors and agents.

By bringing these works back they effectively block publishers wakening up and doing it themselves and also are one step away from securing the full digital control of these works. It is unknown what the deal is with the authors and their estates but it is obviously better than no sales and is with little if no risk. By selecting the free to play channels they also are well placed to pick up ‘long tail’ sales.

Brave New World ponders what this means for the role of literary agents in the publishing value chain in the future. I also question what sort of business structure a liteary agency will have to maintain under this model. If agencies are looking for long tail economies from out-of-print back lists they’re going to need to aggregate a large list. But a single owner-operator literary agent couldn’t hope to gain advantages this way with a (relatively) small client list. I’d estimate more than half the agents in Australia are small single-agent businesses. Can sole agents survive in the near-future publishing paradigm?