Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Testing the e-climate

Publishers are baffled. No one knows what books are going to look like in 20 years. No one knows what kind of dance the ebook market will be doing a year from now. It's hard for traditional publishers to to figure out what royalty share to offer their authors on digital copies.

One major player, publisher of my books, has recently renegged on the 50 percent author rate in our contract (signed before digital books were more more than a twinkle in Amazon's eye) and has come up with something closer to what they consider 'the market norm' of 20 percent. For various reasons I'm arguing, not signing. Here's an extract from my letter:

…  for an author to be contracted ad infinitum for 20 percent of the digital book price received makes little sense in this changeable climate.

As a digital publisher I'm paying 20 percent to our authors until certain fixed publishing costs are met, after which 60 percent. Each contract is renewable after two years.

I go on to request that the span of the contract be shortened from infinity to two years; or that the percentage payable to the author be increased, or that it be increased after a certain number of sales — after all, there will be no reprint, no ongoing production costs once the book has been digitally formatted.

I suggest that, alternatively, I take back my digital rights, format and sell my own ebooks, and offer the publisher perhaps 20 percent of income from sales . . .

My letter concludes: I don't envy you the task of working through these digital knots, but this is the publishing challenge of the time and vigorous discussion is surely called for now when author autonomy is increasing exponentially.

And that's the rub. Not all authors will be content to sit about catching the drips from the sales of their titles when they now have unprecedented access to their readership, and as long as publishers expect them to behave like compliant children, taking their small portion without fuss.

Of course, I run the risk that the publisher won't budge and I'll be left with no ebook and no 'digital' income from it.

I'll let you know what happens.


Claire Beynon said...

Bravo Pen for tackling the questions full-on, acknowledging the challenge of transitional times and engaging your publisher and us in what is, undoubtedly, a crucial conversation.

Penelope said...

Thanks, Claire. I'm sure I speak for many authors, but have the advantage of having dealt with the questions from both sides of the contract.

Penelope said...

As it turned out, I signed for 20% but only for two years. I'd urge other authors to make short digital contracts these days (unless you have an exceptionally good deal). Flexibility is the thing.