Thursday, October 20, 2011

A New Era of Author Care?

We live in a connected world where information can be instantly available at a click. However, information on book movement and sales has todate often been a dark secret and a source of frustration to a major stakeholder – the author.

Today three major publishers have announced in the US that they would allow their authors to access book sales data directly online. Simon & Schuster have created an author portal, where authors and illustrators can check sales of their books, by format and merchant and including digital. Random House and the Hachette Book Group have also declared plans for their own portals for authors sales information. This in itself a significant break through and starts to make sales data transparent, embraces authors and is to be applauded.

Some have suggested that the motive behind the initiative is to combat Amazon, which gives authors access to data on their titles from Nielsen BookScan and also allows them to check their sales ranking compared to other books on Amazon. If this is the case it should be accepted as a price to be paid for not acting earlier and making business with author transparent in the first place.

The big question is whether this new wave of Author Care is to be consistently applied across all publishers, or remain as a tool by the big publishers to differentiate them from the smaller ones who will find it difficult to compete. As the creators are the ones who input the most it would be great if industry bodies such as the APA or AG could help facilitate a similar service for smaller publishers and their authors.

There will always be issues re timing and accuracy of the feeds but as the likes of Bookscan have proved, there should be no reason in today’s world why information lines are so broken and inconsistent.

Authors should only need to see actual sales to consumers, not the units shushing around in the market. Trying to explain sale or return movements to authors may prove a very interesting exercise and its not one that they need to understand today. However they will need to see special sales as units sold firm to intermediaries.

Digital sales are different and should be instantly available, as in theory, they only leave the digital warehouse when sold. However the more these are with aggregators the more difficult this often becomes. This brings us to the next logical issue of royalties and whether this new era of transparency will lead to a long overdue open reporting on royalties and speeding up of payments? As more contracts adopt reward based on net sales the actual cost of sales and not price paid by the consumer becomes important. With respect to digital sales and the agency model there is little reason why monies earned should not straight forward and even transfered in the swipe of a card. We realise that may be too much to ask but it should not be too much to strive for.

As many author advances and rewards shrink we must strive to look at ways to keep them better informed and pay them quicker.

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