Video Killed The Radio Star, and All That

May 28th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

In 1998 or so, we wrote an article (which we would locate if we weren’t so lazy and if we didn’t suspect it’s really bad) about ebooks and authors. At the time, there was a lot of fear and bravery surrounding this type of publishing. Since then, ebook sales have risen and the planet has continued to turn, pretty much on schedule. Ebooks haven’t destroyed the world. We suspect free will is alive and kicking.

Yet a combination of fear and bravery continues to exist in ebook-world. We previously discussed authors giving away their works (gasp!). Now we bring you a talk from Cory Doctorow (or rather a transcript of a talk) about the, well, myths and facts of ebooks (among other aspects of this topic). And we bring you a thought on licenses and language barriers. Finally, a gentle reminder that while words on page are the book standard, the medium changes constantly. It’s okay.

One thing that Doctorow touches on (okay, in all fairness to Doctorow, he walks up to the subject, then takes a different direction as he’s not really talking finances here), and we feel a rant coming on, is the fact that ebook authors can make more money per sale. Yes, it’s true. Dedicated epublishers pay a higher royalty than traditional print publishers. While the sales do not equal those of printed books, we hear that Ellora’s Cave authors make fairly good money off their books (yes, sex sells, but there must be something more to convince people to come back). It is our belief the print to electronic sales ratio will continue to shift — just as Doctorow uses the example of his grandmother’s online prowess, we use our non-scientific “average woman from the Midwest devouring ebooks” gauge. Sure it’s anecdotal (we’re fairly certain we’ve never been to the Midwest), but telling. Acceptance is growing.

could lead us to another rant — why in the world do ebook prices have to be so high? According to Open eBook Forum, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is retailing at $9.95 for the electronic version. We won’t take this particular tangent except to say: are people crazy, spending that much for an electronic book?)

Which is why we’re bothered by the royalty issue for print publishers (like most humans, authors must eat). The contracts we’ve seen from print publishers for electronic versions lock authors into a royalty rate that resembles what would be earned for a book club sale (ah, there’s another rant we’ll avoid today as we’re heading off for yoga and want to remain in a calm state of mind). There are a lot of factors behind the 6, 8, 10, whatever-you’re-lucky-enough-to-get percent royalty on books. Many of those factors (but not all) disappear when printing electronically. For example: paper, shipping, handling…

Of course, other costs are introduced. For example, credit card processing, bandwidth, constant vigilance to protect servers from malice (aka teenagers with too much time and too few brains). We’ll even accept that publishers’ overhead costs (editors, etc. — just because you’re not charged directly doesn’t mean those costs aren’t factored into your royalty rate) should be spread across all media.

Yet publishers persist in offering royalties that reflect labor and resource intensive processes. Given the rise in sales of ebooks, this tells us that someone is making a healthy profit off the books. We’d like to think it’s the author, but we have vast experience in this matter, and we know that’s not the case.

We’re lousy at ending, and suspect we could rant for days on this topic. Actually, we think we have ranted for days on this topic (our husband didn’t blink when we said we were worked up on the subject). We simply want to state that the time has come for authors (and agents) to educate themselves on this royalty thing and how the publishing business works and how equity can be achieved. It’s your business, after all.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs · Square Pegs