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Agents combine

11 March 2013

The announcement that 50% of London agency Conville & WalshSee Conville & Walsh listing has been bought by Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing UK is the latest news in the consolidation which is going on amongst literary agents. This purchase brings a successful smaller agency into a bigger one which has not perhaps been so dynamic. As a way of recruiting productive agents, it probably beats trying to develop them (so long as you have the money to invest or can lay your hands on it), as these agents are not likely to leave taking their client list with them. In that respect they are not like new agents developed by bigger agencies, who often leave to join another agency which offers a better deal, or to set up on their own.

Clare Conville said:"In the fast-changing landscape of international publishing, this will be a fantastic opportunity to combine C&W's strengths and skills with those of Curtis Brown's and to ensure we continue to offer a bespoke service supported by a powerful agenting alliance to all our authors."

This move follows the sale of the oldest agency in the world, London's A P WattClick for AP Watt Ltd Agents References listing , which went to the new upstart, United AgentsClick for United Agents Agents References listing. All one can say about that is that the latter must have good access to finance, as the backlist of most of its authors dating back to before the split from PDF would still be owned by that agency. United Agents' cash reserves might therefore be limited.

If this sounds confusing, it's because an author's agency-negotiated contracts contain an agency clause entitling them to their share of the income from the book in perpetuity. So if an author leaves an agency, they generally only do so with their new book.

There are signs of big changes in the agency world, but not all of them involve purchases and mergers. The developing trend for agents to arrange to sell their clients' out of print backlist as ebooks would have been unheard of until recently. Agents are starting to compete with publishers in some of the things they do. Amazon's White Glove operation, for instance, is designed to facilitate agents' getting their clients' books into print themselves, a process which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Many authors like the personal touch of the independent agent, but the key relationship for the author is with the individual agent, so there's certainly an argument for saying that the individual author can have this relationship with their individual agent inside a bigger agency, together with all the advantages a big agency is able to offer, such as film departments and creative writing courses.