Galassi on eBooks

This weekend, Farrar, Straus & Giroux president Jonathan Galassi published an op-ed piece in The New York Times essentially railing against Open Road Media’s claim to William Styron’s eBook rights, a subject which has been much-debated in recent weeks, especially since Random House, Styron’s longtime publisher, made its big backlist rights grab at the end of last year.

Galassi specifically expresses skepticism in the particular case of Styron’s works, citing the indelible imprint of Styron’s Random House editors, copyeditors, designers, etc, on the finished work that Open Road plans to publish. More generally, Galassi argues that a company like Open Road is merely a distributor, and that, “A publisher–and I write as one–does far more than print and sell a book. It selects, nurtures, positions and promotes the writer’s work…An e-book distributor is not a publisher, but rather a purveyor of work that has already been created. In this way, e-books are no different from large-print or paperback or audio versions.”

That last statement especially may seem frustrating to many on the leading edge of the eBook world–the words of the old guard afraid of the new world. The ever-incendiary Mike Cane finds Galassi childish at best: “Are you going to whine like a crybaby after a business arrangement has been concluded that we owe you–what?–emotional loyalty?”

So what do you think? Is Galassi justifiably trying to make sure publishers don’t miss out on the payoff for all the work they’re done? Or is he once again expressing the fears of a dying publishing business? Do you think publishers still usefully provide the services Galassi cites?