Thursday, 9 June 2011

Brave New World

I was talking on Dubai Eye Radio's Business Breakfast the other week about the wonderful story of Sonia Land and Random House.

Literary agent Sonia Land (of highly respected agency Shiel Land Associates) signed up prolific author Catherine Cookson to publish her backlist online under a new imprint, Peach Publishing. Over a hundred Cookson titles have consequently appeared on Amazon's Kindle Store. The covers alone are a talking point and have prompted more than one comment along the lines of 'If that's your idea of cover art, I hope you're better at the rest of the publishing skillset."

The teensy weensy fly in the Cookson ointment is that she already has a publisher, Random House subsidiary Transworld. Land offered a higher royalty rate, according to The Bookseller. In a Hollywood-style gambit, the news was followed hard by Random House signing top author Tom Sharpe to publish his backlist on Kindle with them, cutting out his literary agent of some thirty years' standing (see where this is going yet?), Sonia Land. At least the Tom Sharpe covers are pukkah.

Heavy hitter agent Ed Victor has followed suit and others have confirmed they are looking at launching their own imprints. You'd be forgiven for surmising that, faced with an existential threat, publishing is tearing itself apart.

The issue of royalty rates for e-books has been an increasing rubbing point between agents and publishers - Amazon takes 30% of a Kindle book, leaving a whopping 70% for the publisher (or, if you're self-pubbed, author). Agents are arguing that given the physical costs of print, distribution and returns are now out of the equation, a royalty rate of 50% of the cover price for the author is equitable. Publishers are currently paying 20-25%.

Agents get, generally, 15% of their author's income from books. So an e-book with a $10 cover price (incredibly expensive, BTW, in e-book terms) would currently give Amazon $3, the publisher $4.50, the author $2.125 and the agent $0.375.

The growing pressure many authors feel in favour of self-publishing, by the way, is only increased by the realisation that selling your book at a much more realistic $2.99 would net you, the self-published author, $2.09 - nearly as much money as going through a publisher and an agent and selling at $10. There's increasing traction around that $2.99 price point - and if your book sold at that price through a publisher/agent, you as the author would get a lowly $0.635.

Meanwhile, the most successful indie author of all time, million-selling Amanda Hocking, has signed a $2 million deal with a traditional publisher through an agent, presumably retaining her digital rights. Oh, to have the clout to do that!

The question now becomes, 'How much value do a publisher and an agent give me here? What are their roles in the e-book world?' This question is also being asked a lot by publishers and agents. Any answers on a postcard, please!


Macthomson said...

I followed the trend to price at 2.99 about a month back and I agree entirely that this is a valid way forward for e-publishing.

The major problem for self-publishers remains however 'discoverability'.

I hope "Beirut" is bubbling along nicely!

alexander... said...

Hey, Mac

Yes, 'discoverability' is the challenge so many are facing and it will only get worse as more and more are drawn to self-publishing and the morass of new projects increase - that and quality, which is going to be a massive issue moving forward as anyone who has trawled through the deeper waters of authonomy's 10,000 tomes will attest!

Beirut remains as per my last update, being read by a number of big London publishers. And yes, the waiting is slowly killing me, thank you.

Duffy said...

Businesses that have shifted to being primarily online have all had one thing in common: eliminating the middle man. Think of travel agents. Once you went to a travel agent for vacation planning. Now you go to the internet.

"How much value do a publisher and an agent give me here?"

I think their roles are changing and the market distortions we're seeing are a part of that. Agents are probably going to become more like marketers. They'll market books to readers more than publishers.

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