Terry Goodkind Follows The Money

August 26th, 2008 · 17 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I remain bemused by authors who insist, when refusing to grant ebook rights, that their works are meant to be experienced in a certain (bound and printed) format. It’s a bit quaint, when you think about it, that they would impose their own vision of art on the beholder — it’s a bit like Michelangelo insisting that we only view the ceiling of Sistine Chapel while supine, X feet away from the work.

It’s insanity to suggest someone should carve these rights in stone now.

It is not how the artist creates the work that defines the experience: it is how the viewer/reader/listener/casual observer interacts with it that matters. Every time you reread a book, aren’t you having a different experience? Is every word, every phrase, every insight exactly the same the second, third, eighth time? Why authors want to define our experience is beyond me — authors should want that experience to be as rich and varied as possible. Once the book is published, it is no longer the author’s to shape.

Terry Goodkind has recently elected to have his works published in electronic format. While one source says he’s held back those rights, just as JK Rowling did, because of his insistence of maintaining the integrity of form and format, the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly puts a more financial spin on the deal:

When asked why Goodkind opted to be published in e-book by an independent, in Rosetta, Goodkind’s agent, Russell Galen, said Rosetta “offered us much better terms.” [Arthur] Klebanoff [CEO of RosettaBooks], who negotiated the Goodkind deal with Galen, added that he thinks the size of a publisher is also less important in e-book publishing. “Obviously Random House has a compelling argument when it comes to what it can do [in publishing] a phsycial book,” he told PW. “But in e-book [publishing] the people selling the books are Kindle, Sony Reader and various other e-tailers. So, whether the title is fed by Rosetta or Random House makes no difference.”

The second part of that paragraph is fascinating and very much the topic of today’s thoughts. Why should an author give over his or her epublishing rights to a traditional print house? What advantage comes from this sort of arrangement? I am not asking a rhetorical question. In a new distribution landscape, what advantage does a traditional, print-based publisher offer?

First, let us begin with a truth: because Goodkind held back his rights for so long, he created an underground market for his works. Keeping these rights close doesn’t keep ebooks from being created and distributed. Witness the Google results for Terry Goodkind ebook. One surefire way to combat the pirates is to make legal editions easily available at a reasonable price through legitimate retailers…and then do everything in your power to make sure those search results appear first, before the pirates. People are lazy, don’t make pirating a more attractive option than buying legal.

That ought to be the first law of digital media: Make legal products easier and more cost effective than pirated products.

As some publishers tell me, a major challenge to their digital migration is getting authors and agents on board with this new distribution channel (and that’s all it is, a new distribution channel). I can see why, but look at the example above for the obvious drawback in holding back these rights. The reason Goodkind’s agent stated for choosing Rosetta Stone over Random House: it’s the money, stupid. And that’s something publishers, traditional publishers, have to face.

The competition is not located in a shiny Manhattan office building. Publishers are no longer competing just with each other, announcing pre-empts and huge advances. As the market moves online, the money has to change. Goodkind and authors like him have the power to do it — if and when Rowling enters into the ebook market, if her agent is half as good as reputed, you don’t think she’s going to settle for relatively small royalties, do you?

As publishers like Random House try to redefine concepts such as “out-of-print”, savvy authors and agents will be more diligent about defining tight deadlines for contracts (in fact, I’m a bit surprised this isn’t happening more frequently). Firm deadlines allow authors to renegotiate terms, especially as the digital market grows and evolves. While publishers love the idea of locking someone into 2008 rules, it’s a safe bet to say that this landscape will be vastly different in ten years.

It’s insanity to suggest someone should carve these rights in stone now, when the future’s so bright, blah, blah, blah.

Of course, digital rights and how they’re compensated are just a small part of the overall challenge. That’s another topic for another today. Yeah, just call me your little ray of sunshine.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

17 responses so far ↓

  • Eoin Purcell // Aug 26, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Wonderful, if slightly unnerving for a publishing to read. I agree that from an authors view the publisher is largely irrelevant in the e-book equation.

    Isn’t the obvious conclusion of this that the actually distributor/e-tailer of the book will simply remove the publisher from that end of the deal altogether?


  • Linsey // Aug 26, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Why not negotiate for the best deal when it comes to ebooks? They do it for the rights for audio books and movies. And if this means that there will be more ebook options out there, I’m all for it.

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  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Linsey – In answer to your question (before I get to Eoin’s!), I’d like to point to you Joe Wikert’s follow-up to my article (Joe’s article) because, well, you know, I’m lazy. Also because he’s already written what I would have, had I had more time.

    One thing he doesn’t fully say is versioning is important. Once authors begin to parse out their rights, publishers, especially those who have invested editorial efforts, aren’t likely to give up “their” version of the book. Which, you know, could make things really interesting.

  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 26, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Eoin — sorry to scare you. I’ve been hesitating on this topic for some time, as you can imagine.

    And, as you see from my response to Linsey, there’s a contra to my argument. If I put some thinking power into it, I’m sure I’d come up with more. Bottom line, publishers in this century (and beyond) need to figure out how they fit into these new channels.

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree that publishers are irrelevant, but would, instead, suggest that they might have to work harder to prove they’re the right entity to exploit these rights.

  • Von Allan // Aug 26, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I do find this fascinating. I’m a graphic novelist and so I get very curious about this on the webcomics side of things. There certainly hasn’t been a truly innovative ebook method of delivering this type of content quite yet. As a result, the traditional advertising/merchandising is still the dominant revenue platform.

    I actually think ebooks, especially future iterations of Kindle-like devices that can handle the complex graphics, will alter the landscape of comics and graphic novels.

    Thanks for writing on this subject!

  • Jane // Aug 26, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    I think this is fabulously funny. Publishers and authors who resist legitimate e – efforts are getting shafted by google.

  • Kassia Krozser’s Booksquare Tells a Cautionary Tale About EPublishing | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary // Aug 26, 2008 at 7:43 pm

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    […] Kassia Krozer at Booksquare, blogs about it, bringing up some very interesting points and questions. “Why should an author give over his or her epublishing rights to a traditional print house? What advantage comes from this sort of arrangement? I am not asking a rhetorical question. In a new distribution landscape, what advantage does a traditional, print-based publisher offer?” […]

  • Eoin Purcell // Aug 27, 2008 at 8:59 am

    You know how it is Kassia,

    A good scare every now and then never hurt anyone! Especially when it makes you think some!


  • Mike Cane // Aug 27, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Excellent post. I haven’t followed this beyond the headline level, though. Does anyone know what the actual eBooks will cost readers?

  • Shayne // Aug 27, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    If Goodkind didn’t get 35-50%, he got taken.

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  • Adrienne // Sep 3, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Maybe if publishers start thinking about their readers as their “customers” instead of the big distributers as their “customers”, it would be easier to see where their future opportunities lie.

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