One of the most interesting topics to arise during the #digitalsurvival Literary Salon was the question of whether authors deserve higher royalty rates on e-book publications.
‘What’s the deal?’ was the question from a member of the audience that got the literary salon buzzing and started an in-depth discussion. On face value, the question was simple: how much does an author get paid per e-book sold, in comparison to print books? But this one question leads to a myriad of technical, ethical and traditional complications.
As a literary agent, author, and digital publisher, Allan Guthrie has a perfect perspective of the publishing industry in order to answer this question. Guthrie claimed that the set rate of most publishers is 25% and this is a non-negotiable figure, his personal opinion is that this is ‘daylight robbery’ – an opinion shared by many.
The main issue surrounding this subject is whether publishers can justify taking such a large cut of the profits. In the past, publishers were the investors, with capital at stake in order to pay the risky costs of editing, designing, printing and marketing a book. However, some of these costs, particularly printing ones, are eradicated with digital publishing. Publishers lose less capital from producing an unsuccessful e-book than a printed one and the main bonus is that they have no stock left to shift that has not sold on a ‘sale or return’ basis, because stock in the e-book world is virtual.
The digital age has allowed fast-moving entrepreneurs to successfully publish in a digital environment, such as two of the Loughborough Literary Salon’s speakers, Allan Guthrie and Ben Galley. Guthrie was early to pick up on the rise of the e-market and set up ‘Blasted Heath’, Scotland’s very first digital-only publishing house. Ben Galley used the digital platform to take a leap into sci-fi writing and self-publishing, with hard graft he has become a very successful author and self-publisher.
There are many benefits of self-publishing, the main one being that the author keeps all of the hard-earned profits. Another good reason for self-publishing is the autonomy it provides; complete control over those precious words. Also, it is reassuring that many individuals have managed it, proving that it is most certainly a viable way for an author to get their work out to readers.
Of course, there are also many benefits of being associated with a publishing house; their reputation, satisfaction of being recognised by the publisher, likely success if the publisher is well known, high quality of the finished product and the list goes on…
Ben Galley was asked whether he would consider a publishing deal in the position he is currently in, with two books from his Emaneska trilogy already hugely successful. Galley’s answer was that he would consider it, but would not take back what he has accomplished through self-publishing. This highlights the fact that a contract with a publishing house is still a much coveted achievement, but it is not the only way to exist in the world of books.
Everyone with an interest in publishing is broadly aware of the fact that e-book sales are rising dramatically; only time will tell where the role of the publisher will fit in in this relatively new digital age of e-reading and whether they will keep a hold on the power they developed during the long printed-book era.