Biz Doc: It Has Come To This

To E or Not to E

October 2012

Established authors from mid-listers to the ranks of NY Times bestsellers are increasingly mulling over a tough question: do I re-up with a big-six legacy publisher for a multi-book deal (assuming one was offered) or sign a one-off with a big-six to publish an E-Original or do I take control and launch an E-Original on my own?  I’m so confused… and where’s my drink?

Why the ruminations?  Well,… even rising mid-list authors are seeing advances dropping and the number of titles per contract falling –while other terms remain flat or slide even further in the publisher’s favor.  Thus, basic market forces are causing some authors to consider E-Originals.  Those who have been paying attention have known this for a lonnnng time.

In a recent blog post my industry colleague and kindred spirit Richard Curtis pointed out the challenges facing the big six publishers in this area.  I agree with what he had to say.

Let me elaborate and do the math… suppose a mid-list author is offered a $10,000 advance for an e-Original by a big-six publisher.  After much wrangling, the author accepts the deal despite feeling like Ned Beatty squealing like a pig in the movie Deliverance.  Important note: you never ever want to be Ned Beatty.   Anyway, the author collected the advance, delivered the manuscript and waited a year for the first statement.  It arrived along with a check for $2.61 (rough estimate) which included the usual set of nefarious deductions.

Alternatively, suppose the author publishes an E-Original (full-length novel at 120,000 words) at let’s say, $7.99 retail, and earns approx. $4.00 net per eBook copy sold from a digital publisher.  At sales of only 2,500 books, the author will earn approx. $10,000 – which is the advance and the party has only just begun!  Assuming the author is at least midlist and regularly attends to their audience, these numbers are not difficult to attain.

We can talk all day about math, and it’s a good exercise, but to me there is a much greater question: control of the author’s content IP.  A digital publisher (full disclosure: I am CEO of PDP) can provide a better royalty (PDP gives 75% to the author and pays monthly), better term (PDP gives 3 to 5 years vs. a life of copyright) and allows the author to keep my ancillary rights such as Audio, TV and Film (be sure you keep those gems).  Content is where the value is – publishers are not purchased for their teams.  An author with a reasonable level of success that controls his or her IP for the long term will be in a much better position.

So, to me, the answer to the question “To E or Not To E” is not as much about E-Originals alone as it is about the authors deciding to take in control of their content library and demand better business terms along the way.

Don’t be Ned Beatty.


1 comment

  1. On the mark, Tom! But I must say that not all digital publishers offer good deals. There are sharks in them thar’ waters! A secondary question might be, “If you don’t have a backlist and an audience as you noted above, when does it make sense to self-publish?” Care to comment, sir?

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