The other thing that's happening is that the Association of Authors’ Representatives has sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking them to please let publishers break the law whenever they feel like it. This follows an earlier, similar letter by a board member of the AAR who also heads the agency Writer's House.
(Anyone else remember when Writer's House was a really prestigious agency? I would have given my left arm to be repped by them back in the day. On the other hand, I got screwed by people who were every bit as prestigious, so I guess it all worked out. This just goes to show that the line between respectable agency and dirtbag agency has basically become nonexistent.)
Of course my first thought was, Hey, these guys are Authors' Representatives the same way Scott Turow is president of the Author's Guild! But then Joe Konrath made that point many times, and it's very entertaining, so you should go read all that. And you should re-read how one agency dealt with problems reporting e-book revenues, just to hammer home who these people are actually working for.
For too long some agents and many publishers mistakenly believed they actually created the PRODUCT that readers consumed: i.e. the book. Even with print, that’s not true. The PRODUCT is the story, the words. The printed book was the medium by which those words reached the reader. Thus agents and publishers and bookstores were, and still are, facilitators. Not creators.
I think this mentality that agents/publishers/bookstores create the product is at the core of why writers get treated so badly by traditional publishing. I mean, it makes sense for you to get 90% of the money if you create the product, right? If you're just a facilitator, taking such a big cut would suggest that you are somehow abusing your position, but if you created it--if Stephanie Meyer wouldn't be anything if it weren't for you!--then all's right with the world. So, yeah, the agents are lining up to back price-fixing publishers and Barnes & Noble rather than writers, because writers bring nothing to the party other than a whole lot of whining.
The main thing to understand is that agents are fighting to defend a system. Traditional publishing is a system that they understand, it's the system that allowed them to profit, and perhaps most important, it's a system in which they were important. They created books. They created literary culture.
If things change, they'll be just another service provider. What do agents do if they're not gatekeepers anymore? They help negotiate contracts. That's it.
And once you put things in those terms--once agents are off that gatekeeper pedestal and people are no longer forced to use them--people are going to look at what agents are providing and start asking questions. Pesky questions. Demeaning questions. Questions like, is this service worth paying for? Is this the best person to hire? Are they offering a good value?
That's going to be a considerable step down. That's going to be the end of the days of telling writers what kind of paper they should use for their queries.