Literary agent Andrew Lownie, speaking as one of the panellists at a late day panel on the Tuesday of the London Book Fair, says agents have become more like sports agents or celebrity managers:
Lownie… said agents have become more important, on some level, because there are now more rights available and contracts have become more complex. With digital publishing creating a host of new available rights, Lownie sees agents working as authors’ "copyright protectors," as much as someone who can help them because of their overall knowledge of the book market. In this way, Lownie noted, literary agents have become more like, "sports agents or celebrity managers," in so far as they now need to look after their author’s entire career.
So why do authors even need a publisher, if their agent can now publish for them? Lownie put it bluntly when he said that only a publisher can "get books into the supermarket." (In London, with the dissolution of many of the bookstores, the supermarket is one of the most important outlets for selling books.) To the end, Lownie said that while many authors can (and have) found success self-publishing, he thinks they will continue to need to seek out a traditional deal to "move to the next level." As examples of this, Lownie cited authors like E.L. James and Amanda Hocking, who both struck traditional print deals, after finding success self-publishing.
Both Lownie and Ogden said that, as the market continues to become more competitive, they believe more agencies will continue to merge. (In the U.K., agencies Conville & Walsh and Curtis Brown recently merged.) They also feel that everyone working in this business–authors, agents and publishers–will need to continue to become more innovative to survive. Nonetheless, certain realities of this business remain. As Lownie put, publishing it still "all about timing and luck."