About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More from the e-book front

Regular blog-reader Maria made some good comments on my last post.

Why don't publishers sell their own e-books directly? I haven't the foggiest idea, because it seems to me that this is something that should have been happening ages ago. One reason could be brush-back. Whenever publishers have gotten too aggresive about selling hard copies off of their own web sites, the established retail channels haven't been happy about it. In the dawn of the e-book age, before the Kindle, it might have been easier for the publishers to stake that turf for themselves. Now, for that same brush-back reason, it might be harder. This also depends on if the market leaders for e-books are the Kindle and the Nook, where they have to worry about people also vending print books, or if they're annoying retailers who can only hurt the publishers on the e-book side.

Why are some books in series missing? Part of it is that publishers did not sit down ten years ago and start working in a programmatic way on which books meant money if digitized and get to the task of doing it. And some still don't. Though at this point in time, the bigger issues could be contractual ones. Simon Green's earliest Deathstalker novels are covered under contracts from the early 1990s that pre-date the specific inclusion of electronic book language and royalties. Whether or not it's Simon or the publisher that has those rights, that's the exact kind of thing that Random House sued over when Rosetta Books started selling William Styron e-books in 2001. The question hasn't been resolved definitively. Considering how much flux the business is in right now, when we're not sure who'll be selling e-books on what terms for wat author royalty rates, per my last post, should I or Penguin be in any great rush to come to some kind of agreement on the question? Sadly, I'm not sure it's in anyone's interests to do that until the wild west of e-books gets a little tamer. I'm not encouraging publishers to do e-books that they ain't doing of their own accord because long term, I think I'm better off if they forget and the rights can come back ultimately to my clients.

Finally... E-book royalties have trended down over the years, and that trend may now finally start to end as a result of the recent action in the marketplace. In the earliest years, Random House started out offering 50% of net proceeds, became very lonely, and started to ratchet those royalty rates down, first to 50% until a book earned out (i.e., when it's all money on paper) and then 25% after (when it's actually necessary to pay), then to the 25% of net many others were doing. Ever lower. British publishers started asking for e-book rights, their starting royalty was 15% of net, which will NEVER be better than 15% of cover, and also much much worse. They can be bargained upwards. And Macmillan, which is being hailed as the hero in the Great Amazon War which is still going on (still no "buy new" button for The Gathering Storm) rolled out a new contract boilerplate last fall where the asking royalty rate on e-book was 20% of net. It seems clear that Macmillan is now openly acknowledging they have to push those back up some.

What's been taking so long? The downward creep didn't make sense when it was becoming ever easier for authors to be their own entrepeneurs in electronic publishing and capture two or three times the revenue that the publishers were offering. That could never be done very realistically in the print publishing world. Before Print On Demand, the barriers to entry were so high for distribution and fixed costs of copy #1 that Vanguard Books was never a great option. But over my 25 years in the business the fixed costs and distribution obstacles have slowly come down, and publishers may ultimately have to adjust their royalty offerings if they're going to keep major authors from doing it themselves with increasing frequency.

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