I asked in an earlier post this week, "Whither BookExpo?" The "Whither"-led headline is the journalist's ironic rubric for the inconclusive, chin-pulling article that muses on the future of Literature, the Iraq War, Marriage, or whatever. We have seen a lot of these pieces in the publishing trade in the last couple of years and we certainly have a few more years ahead of us. Almost every aspect of the business is in flux.
One of them is the role of agents. It's hard to say who is more threatened by the prospect of "disintermediation," as it becomes ever easier for writers to sell their work to readers directly--publishers, booksellers, or agents? Right now the first two are feeling the stresses and strains of change more than the agents are, but I think it will soon become apparent that agents have no less to lose. I don't believe that any of us have become obsolete, but we're all going to have to reconfigure our roles in the literary ecosystem.
This thought is prompted today by a Mike Shatzkin blog post about a conversation he had with three agents about this very topic. If these three are representative, agents are also groping for a handle on how their business can and should change. "Whither Agenting?" is another question in the air.