Filed under: Publishing.
The Authors Guild (US), Society of Authors (UK), and The Writers’ Union of Canada, among other groups, have all just written to traditional publisher demanding fairer, more-modern contract terms. I was asked on Facebook if these initiatives were likely to get any traction. Here’s my response:
Honestly? I think traditional publishers will continue to dig in their heels — and die. When their top authors start leaving for direct engagement with their audiences — and they will since people like Scott Turow (past president of the Authors Guild in the US) and Philip Pullman (current president of the Society of Authors in the UK) are the ones behind these fair-contract initiatives — that will leave traditional publishing with no perceived quality advantage in the mind of the reading public over self-publishing.
Traditional publishers have kept for themselves every single dollar — every one — that new production methods have saved them. Typesetting from authors’ disks instead of manually rekeyboarding? They kept all that money. Economies of shorter print runs? They kept all that money.
For newer distribution methods, they’ve insisted on the lion’s share, offering just 17.5% ebook royalties (25% of 70%) vs. Amazon / Kobo / iBooks offering 70% of ebook royalties for self-publishing. They’ve become more aggressive about trying to take control of valuable rights such as digitial audiobooks. I can’t think of a single bone — again, not one — traditional publishers have thrown to authors in the past decade.
And they’ve been rapacious about holding on to rights, trying to spin the mere hypothetical existence of print-on-demand copies or the mere availability of ebook editions as being “in print” (and then in many cases producing atrocious bad-photocopy-quality print-on-demand editions and typo-ridden OCR-scanned ebook editions of backlist that they quite literally should be ashamed to have their publishing imprints associated with), paying out zero, or ten, or maybe if you’re lucky a few hundred dollars twice a year to keep control of older titles the author could be profitably selling (at reasonable ebook prices, something traditional publishers are incapable of grasping) for thousands.
Meanwhile, while authors are feeling ripped off — and experienced ones are — publishers (Tor, for example) have gone on record claiming that 2014 (the last year we have data for so far) was their best year financially ever. I mean really.