This is the first part of the presentation given to the Swanwick Writers Summer School, 11th August,2009. It is based on The Three ‘Rs’: Authoring in the Digital Age.
The third R is shared between rights and reward.
It brings me back to that Litopia discussion and the issue of how authors get rewarded in this digital age. Let’s try and park the physical book world to one side and look purely at digital rights and reward.
Today author advances are disappearing or shrinking. Digital rights are effectively being talked of as a single subsidiary right but we must recognise that these are different from the rights we are familiar with today but can also affect them.
What happens to the rights reversal in a digital age where print on demand and an ebook can mean a book is never out of print? Why should a work be effectively tethered to a publisher in perpetuity?
Always make sure that you can revert your rights and when the conditions for reversal are reached get them back. You can with little effort, sell as many digital individual copies of an out of print work as a publisher and enjoy more return.
Guess what the price of an ebook is today?
I can’t tell you the answer only that some publishers tie it to the current renditions RRP, others to the hardback, and others to whatever. The price has to include tax which changes from state to state, country to country and even within the EU is not standardised. The consumer is however now seeing Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders US, Indigo in Canada and others trying to create a $9.99 price point.
Remember that iTunes moment everyone talks about? They did it by creating a .99 cent price point. I would predict that ebook prices can only go one way and it isn’t up.
Many are using the ebook as the promotional lost leader to capture the physical sale. Others are saying that they will not release the ebook until after the hardback has had its day so avoiding the cannibalising of hardback sales.
James Patterson today has a best selling US ebook ‘The Angel Experiment’. It isn’t new it came out 4 years ago. The reason it is a best seller today is that its been given away to promote his new series. Mega authors such as Patterson may be able to give their books away, big publishers may think it a smart marketing move, but what impact could it have on authors and publishers who don’t enjoy the same economic freedom?
It’s often like the wild west out there today.
But remember the contract you sign today will not deliver royalties for some time and can you predict what the market will look like in 2 years or 3 years?
Should there be a separate digital rights contract which is not based on the physical rendition but on a fixed term licence?
With physical sales came returns and so royalties took time to be paid. However with digital sales there are no returns so why does the author have to wait? Why not transfer the money when it hits the till or at least not long after?
Should digital royalties’ be based on a % of RRP, which is often meaningless in the digital rendition?
Should digital royalties be based on a % of net receipts, which if the current trends continue could be a % of little or nothing?
Should digital royalties be fixed amount? Publishing may be a gambling business but who will gamble on predicting that today?
Should you negotiate different rates based on the different channels as Google, Amazon, Apple are all different in their models? Just like yesterday’s territorial rights they can all be done separately.
Then there is the Google Book Settlement in the US. My thoughts on this debacle are well documented but what I would say it has raised it the whole issue on copyright. I find it amazing that an industry that is all about copyright and rights failed to create a rights registry to control them and waited for a handout from Google to even start the process.
I see a fantastic opportunity for writing talent in the digital world. Tomorrow you may not have the same dependency on some relationships that you believe pivotal today.
I believe that publishing is about joining those dots between the author and the reader.
I believe in the right for authors to revert their rights and not be tethered to a publisher unless they want to be.
I believe that digital rights should be term based and reflect the different channels.
I strongly believe authors should see a greater slice of the digital pie.
I also believe that there will always be publishers and retailers, but they may not be the same number, or that they will provide the same services they do today.
The one thing that is certain is that tomorrow will be different and you are in the best position to benefit.
You are no longer in that theatre performing to an audience hidden in the dark. You can switch on the lights and embrace the digital age.
Enjoy the journey!
I stumbled upon your post when I most needed it, as I am currently negotiating the digital rights of mu first novel, sold to a publisher over three years ago.
Yes, it's a brave new world and we authors are the guinea pigs.
"Muchas gracias" for sharing your views and best regards from Barcelona.
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