On the True Costs of Bargain Books, Or Guilting Readers Because Authors Signed Bad Contracts
About a month ago (I just now found it) Mayhew published a post where he argues that fans should not buy bargain price books because an author’s royalties are slashed as the price drops.
So how does it all work? Authors get paid royalties, which are a percentage of the book price which you may (or may not) earn from books sales, usually around 5-10% of the price, but very often less; most books are discounted in any case, and the royalty shrinks accordingly. In simple terms, you would expect to get between 50p and £1 for each hardback book sold (and less on a paperback). This is completely normal, and I have no complaints, although it’s often a shock to people.
What happens when books get discounted further? Subject to contractual terms, the royalty may shrink on cheaper books. So you end up getting a tiny % of an even smaller amount. We are talking pennies. Once upon a time there was a system called the Net Book Agreement, limiting the extent to which books could be discounted. But that was abandoned in favour of a “free market” years ago. The result? books can be reduced to next to nothing.
But increasingly, publishers broker cold, hard, cynical deals with these people and then print to order. The publisher is complicit in the arrangement and sells books at extremely low prices (less than 50p per book) to the discount catalogue (but not at a loss to themselves) who then sell them on at a very nice profit – usually £1 per book. Tens of thousands of copies. And the author? I get less than 4p a book, while the discount company makes millions every year. …
Some book contracts give authors a right to veto such deals, although very often publishers make the deals first and then inform you, too late, of the fait accompli.
Authors and publishers might see things differently, but what I see here is an author who is trying to guilt readers over the price they pay for books.
That is a pretty obnoxious behavior, but it gets worse when we look at it sideways. That’s when we realize that the real issue here is not the price of the books but the contract terms Mayhew agreed to. He’s trying to make readers responsible for his, and other authors', bad business decisions.
And that is a load of nonsense.
Around this time last year I argued that readers have no obligation to support a publisher’s flawed business model, and today I would like to extend that premise to include authors.
If an author doesn’t like the terms of a contract, negotiate a better contract. Or get a new publisher. Or self-publish.
But what authors don’t get to do is demand that readers fix the problems that the authors helped create. It’s not the reader’s fault, and it’s not the reader’s responsibility to fix.
P.S. I know that sounds cold and heartless, but at its core this is a contracts issue. It’s a business matter.
P.P.S. I could write a whole other post on how Mayhew screwed up his plea, but it’s not strictly relevant. Suffice it to say that one should only make Mayhew’s argument to fans who already feel a connection. They will want to help, whereas I have no connection to him and see his post as a guilt trip.
image by colindunn