Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Business Rusch: Royalty Statements Update | Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch's eyebrow-raising article on how some of the major publishing houses may be underreporting sales of ebooks and print books to authors within the speculative fiction community.

The Business Rusch: Royalty Statements Update | Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This does make me feel better about my decision to focus on putting together a set of good quality works to digitally publish on Amazon.com and other online venues, rather than having spent the past six months fighting to land an agent and break into the world of traditional print. And I can't say that it comes as a complete surprise that publishers may be underreporting or have chosen to leave in place a dated system that by its design low balls figures to their advantage. Or that this is only coming to light now that authors can track and compare sales of their self-published digital works with ebooks put online by publishers. Or at a time when programs like BookScan are enabling authors independently track sales of their books within a number of venues, and then of course compare those figures with what publishers are reporting in their royalty statements. After all, this is an industry that by all accounts makes a routine business practice of holding onto payments for authors right up until just before it becomes possible to sue them in New York State courts--NYC being where most traditional print houses are headquartered.

To be clear, I am not gloating. Eventually, I'd like to have my works in hard copy form on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores like my beloved Powell's in downtown Portland. If book publishers have been underreporting by a factor of ten, however, then there is a strong possibility that coming lawsuits will force publishers to put a freeze on purchasing new novels, and may even see several already struggling large houses go out of business.

While do I think that ebooks will account for the majority of book sales in the very near future, I don't seem them supplanting hard copies entirely. So far the best analogy of the many put forward to date that I've heard is the comparison of the emergence of ebooks and the ereaders like Kindle that have made them popular to the introduction of cheap, mass market paperbacks/pocket books starting in the late 1930s. The paperback did not kill the hardback. Instead it created a new parallel market for writers who could not break into hardcovers, and in introducing a lower-cost book format, it attracted droves of readers who had been reluctant or unable to shell out the full cost of hardbound novel.

Ebooks and digital readers seem to doing exactly the same thing already. Ranging from ninety-nine cents to four dollars, they seem to have made reading an affordable pleasure again. And a guilt free one, even in the current economy. After all, there is a lot less buyers' remorse that goes with spending $2.99 to download a promising looking ebook onto a Kindle or iPad than plunking down $26 for a new novel from a favorite author that is only available in hardbound. And it's a lot easier to be impulsive with that download, rather than having to jump in the car and spend ten minutes in the aisle of a book store staring at that $16 - $26 dollar price tag and wondering if its worth it. And with even paperbacks often clocking in at $10.99, impulsive book buys have been becoming a thing of the past.

So this is certainly mixed news. Good in that it will hopefully fix an industry that may well be cheating intellectual property creators of the money that they are contractually owed. Bad in that even if it does not sound the death knell for a publishing genre that has been struggling for several decades, it may result in a disruption and freeze on buying for sometime to come.

Oh well. Onward to ebooks and digital publishing for us neopros. Glory in the online realm first, then the heady thrill of paper a few years down the road.

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