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[publishing] A bit more on the Kindle - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-26 03:37
Subject: [publishing] A bit more on the Kindle
Security: Public
Tags:process, publishing
If you haven't caught it yet, check out the growing discussion on Kindle, ebooks and pricing here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

I want to address a few points which have emerged in the comments threads on both sides of my blog.

Royalties: Authors make different amounts of money depending on the edition of the book sold. Our royalty percentages are different for each format: paperback, hardback, Kindle (or other ebook) and audio. The exact numbers vary per contract, and are often subject to intense negotiation. But it's not a simple "$1 per book" or whatever. (In fact, it can be even more complicated than this, as ebooks are sometimes treated as subsidiary rights, but the point remains the same.) [edited for clarity]

Digital rights: One commentor noted that digital rights are supposedly easy for the author to retain, and therefore authors should self-publish on Kindle. My experience in negotiating trade publishing contracts is quite the opposite. Publishers, for a variety of good reasons, are intensely interested in retaining digital rights. As an author, this is fine with me — by definition Tor is much better positioned than I am to package and market a book, be it Kindle or print or other format. That's why they're the publisher and I'm the author.

What is owed to authors: I didn't mean to imply that the boycotter who originally wrote me, or anyone else, owes me anything. Having a publishing contract is not an entitlement, something I try pretty hard to keep in mind. What I did mean to imply is that like any (sane) author, I'd prefer my books to rise or fall on their own merits rather than be compromised by externalities. The sad truth is that all books are compromised by externalities. For example, due to the timing of the book's release, the Escapement mass market paperback got caught up in the Andersen News failure, which resulted in an orphaning of part of my print run, and a resultant weakness in the book's P&L numbers. That's life in the big city, and part of why so many of us authors have day jobs. But what I did want to point out to the boycotter was that they were creating a negative externality which would have far more effect on the author than it would on the intended targets of the boycott, which is to say, either Amazon or the publisher.

Pricing of books on Kindle: Several commentors said that Amazon sets the Kindle pricing. I don't think this is quite accurate. Per the Kindle terms of service, Amazon sets the Kindle sales price, but that is a net retail price discounted (or maybe not, depending) based on the "Suggested Retail Price" which is set by the publisher. For example, if the publisher were to set the SRP at $9.99, then by definition Amazon would not price the book higher. I'm not suggesting this should be the case, merely pointing out that the question isn't that simple. From the Kindle TOS:
4. Pricing and Program Terms. As part of your Application, you will provide us with a suggested retail price for each Title (Suggested Retail Price or SRP). The Suggested Retail Price you provide to Amazon must be consistent with the SRP you have provided to other retailers and wholesalers. However, we have sole and complete discretion to set the retail price to our customers for Digital Books.


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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-08-26 12:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Another point your reader could consider about the author retaining digital rights is what version of the text they would publish digitally? The author frequently doesn't receive the final proofread draft in a format that's readily usable for an electronic edition - it's been typeset at this stage, in some piece of software the author probably doesn't have access to.
So you'd have to either ask for the final text in some format, or bring the final corrections in to your final version.

No small task, and not the kind of stuff an author usually wants to do, so it seems to me - as a mere reader, mind you, but my Mum's going through nightmareish experiences right now with the second edition of her English Grammar textbook through $BIG_BRITISH_PUBLISHER, who farmed the typesetting out to some company in India who have handed back a dog's breakfast. Argh.
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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-08-26 12:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The latter part of the last paragraph reads like a non sequitur. I guess I'm just saying I've got some experience with the publishing industry (not just from Mum's book). I've also read Charlie Stross asking for DRM-free digital versions of his own books, so he can have a copy of the final text of his own books :)
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Sean P. Fodera
User: delkytlar
Date: 2009-08-26 14:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is a nice, concise summation of one of the most difficult transitions in publishing history. However, I have one quibble. The major publishers do not usually treat ebooks as subsidiary rights. At least, not in the sense that subsidiary rights are licensed to third parties, and the income split with the author. All the major houses have their own ebook programs (some better than others), and none I know of actually license ebook rights any longer. This was the case 8 or 10 years ago when I was running one of the earliest ebook licensing programs. Today, with the possible exception of smaller houses, it's all handled in house, and the authors earn their full contractual ebook royalty, just like the print editions.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-26 14:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you. I have edited the post in an attempt at clarity.
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russ: watchmen
User: goulo
Date: 2009-08-26 20:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:watchmen
Just to play devil's advocate:

"But what I did want to point out to the boycotter was that they were creating a negative externality which would have far more effect on the author than it would on the intended targets of the boycott, which is to say, either Amazon or the publisher."

This is not obvious to me, to be honest. Oh, I see your short-term argument: the (small) amount you get for each copy sold is in some sense more meaningful to you than the (larger) amount the publisher gets for each copy sold (since your book is just one of zillions they are selling).

(But in an absolute sense, of course the publisher loses more money than you do if your book doesn't sell. I assume they are not giving more than half the profit to you, right? Or do I misunderstand that?)

But it seems fair to assume that a lot more cheaper books get sold than expensive books, all else being equal (and loosely speaking a genre reader has a large selection of books available - so why buy one that costs twice as much, if they're a first-time reader of your novels and not already a committed fan)... right? If I'm Joe Blow looking for some hot new book to read, and don't really know much about them other than the cover art and blurbs, why spend $20 instead of $10? So one could argue that by impressing upon publishers that buyers are not willing to spend a higher price, they will force the publishers to reprice your book more competitively with other similar books, thus ultimately helping your sales and increasing your readership.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-27 11:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your analysis holds up just fine over a spectrum of time, but in terms of any given title, as you noted the short-term argument is what affects me (or any other writer) personally. It doesn't do me personally any good to be a casualty in an economic trend.
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