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The Authors Guild and Society of Authors Ask Publishers for Higher eBook Royalties

3113629368_b90ce6b7f8_bEarlier this week two author groups sent an open letter to publishers, begging them to increase digital royalties from the standard 25% to 50% of net.

What we ask is simple: publishers need to revise many of their standard contract terms to make them more equitable. Authors should get at least 50% of ebook revenue, not a mere 25%. Authors should not have their hands tied with contracts which cannot be terminated when a book is no longer being exploited or be subject to non-compete and option clauses that make it even more difficult for them to write and publish new books. Indemnity clauses should spread risk fairly between the publisher and the author. Royalty statements should be transparent and comprehensive. And we ask publishers not to discriminate against authors who don?t have powerful agents. When negotiating with agents publishers often start from previously negotiated forms that remove, or at least soften the blow of, some of the more draconian provisions offered to unagented authors. Why not do the right thing by all authors and eliminate those provisions for everyone?

You can find the letters (as PDFs) here and here, as well as commentary over on The Passive Voice.

The Telegraph and The Guardian have covered the story, and the latter has been dissected over at The Passive Voice.  And a post by Robert J. Sawyer just crossed my desk today which discussed this issue.

As a general rule, I support the letters, although I do wince at the Society of Authors' Histrionics and at the misleading claims made about author incomes.

The SoA claimed that "without serious contract reform the
professional author will become an endangered species", which is sorta true in a "the sky is falling" kind of way. (Even though it makes me roll my eyes, I will admit that writers earning more would be a good thing.)


But the misleading claims that authors are earning less than before don’t get the same grudging agreement.

The claims are not supported by facts. Each author group is basing their claim on recently conducted surveys into author income, and I have a couple problems with the surveys and the conclusions.

There is of course the Author Earnings reports, which show that authors are earning more from the Kindle Store and the UK Kindle Store (source) than ever before. Authors are significantly boosting their income by cutting out publishers, thus casting doubt on the claims that authors are earning less.

But more importantly, a careful reading of the survey reports tells us that it would be more accurate to say that the reports show that the members of the two author groups are earning less (rather than writers in general).

One often overlooked detail is that the survey groups were drawn from the membership rolls of the two organization, and so the surveys say less about writer incomes in general than they do about the incomes of writers who belong to the two groups. (And there are other issues with TAG’s survey, too, including a tiny survey group.)

BTW, you can find the SoA’s survey here (PDF), in case you should want to confirm my statement. It too is based on a small survey group.

images by @sahxic, itsmeritesh

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fjtorres January 9, 2016 um 10:05 pm

Their cause might be a bit more solid if they were asking for better rates for pbooks, which still make up 70% of sales in the US and UK. As is, suspicious minds might wonder why the focus solely on digital.

Bridget McKenna January 10, 2016 um 2:54 pm

@fjtorres: One reason for the focus on digital might be that a 50%"royalty rate for ebooks used to be standard, back before they became, yes, a cash cow. It was only a few years ago that publishers lowered that rate to 25%, including retroactively by getting authors to sign contract amendments to that effect.

The Authors Guild and Society of Authors Ask Publishers for Higher eBook Royalties | The Digital Reader | APM Blog January 10, 2016 um 7:11 pm

[…] The Authors Guild and Society of Authors Ask Publishers for Higher eBook Royalties | The Digital Rea… […]

fjtorres January 11, 2016 um 6:50 am

@Bridget, I remember that. I also seem to remember the switch included a minor (1-2%) boost to pbook royalties in return.

David Gaughran January 11, 2016 um 8:25 am


Because the print splits came from a very rough historical formula of splitting the profits between author and publisher after the bookseller takes their cut and the publishers' outlay is taken into account. Obviously, the current e-book split veers well away from that.

fjtorres January 11, 2016 um 9:31 am

I understand, but if the goal truly is to improve the lot of writers, asking for a 3-5% boost in print would achieve more that a big fight over digital.
My own suspicions run towards thinking pbook sales are declining and they see ebook sales growing indefinitely. Long term, true; but short and mid-range print is an area they can reasonably argue on because of the reduction in return rates, outsourcing to China, etc.

And it is still 70% of sales in currency terms.

Mind you, 50-50 of net is really 35-35-30 and what Amazon Scout pays so it isn’t unreasonable as a baseline. But to the outsiders it is going to sound like overreach.

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