Yesterday, The New York Times reported that talent agency William Morris Endeavor won the bid to acquire sports and media management company IMG for $2 Billion. Once the deal is complete, WME, which is headed by Ari Emanuel (the agent who inspired Jeremy Piven’s character on HBO’s Entourage), will wield even greater negotiation power on behalf of their clients, but more importantly, it will have unprecedented influence on what becomes culture.
WME already presides over a vast and varied network of personalities and media properties that includes Oprah, Joel Osteen, 2013’s highest grossing actor Dawyne “The Rock” Johnson and satirical news blog, The Onion. They also represent many of the most highly acclaimed and commercially successful authors including Judy Blume, Sheryl Sandberg, Ann Coulter, and Malcolm Gladwell. With IMG, WME’s tentacles will stretch to sports, fashion and events. (IMG currently counts a robust roster of athletes, models, and entertainers including Venus Williams, Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss, Taylor Swift, Steve Harvey, and Justin Timberlake among their talent; and produces programming for the Olympics as well as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.)
Should we be alarmed that one entity will have so much (at) stake in what becomes culture from film to theatre to music to literature? That they will have even more power over the types of projects that get signed and what/who gets massive marketing? Should we also be concerned that the publishing industry is consolidating in like manner with big boys Penguin and Random House merging last year, and self-publishing outfits being acquired by / partnering with Penguin and Simon and Schuster?
Personally, I see it as a sign of increased consumer power — with massive potential for artists to realize the power we wield as creatives. The agency role is changing precisely because consumers are savvier than ever and don’t respond predictably to the same ol’ marketing gimmicks as far as connecting with creative content. Writers also have the tools at their disposal now to exercise personal agency and directly reach readers.
Literary agent Joanna Volpe gives an example of the shift in agents’ roles, specifically noting, “We have taken on a public relations management type role.” She explains, “Because the internet is posting things every single minute of every day, authors are put in situations that require a lot more judgment calls on a regular basis in terms of both interacting with their readers and the kind of public image they want to present in order to support their work, which means that agents have to help them make these calls all the time, which is almost a full-time job in itself.”
That said, the network of relationships and opportunities an agency like the pre- and post-IMG WME can provide writers at any level of their career can’t be discounted. As literary agent Sandra Bond explained on IndependPublisher.com, yes, a writer can hire a lawyer to do contract negotiations, and maybe an author already has a contact in publishing to submit their work to, but, Bond points out, “This is our world and we work at it full-time. Most authors have their own day-jobs, so sometimes it’s even a question of time.”
By acquiring IMG, WME has bought themselves time.