Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Fleming estate publishes ebooks directly

by Rob - November 9th, 2010.
Filed under: ebooks, Publishing.

As The Guardian reports, the estate of James Bond creator Ian Fleming has chosen to withhold ebook rights from Penguin, his UK publisher, and instead market the electronic editions directly themselves.

I’m a proud Penguin author myself (in the US and Canada; my UK publisher is Orion), but I’m not surprised by this development. Back when I was president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1998, I was talking about the “post-publisher economy,” and the disintermediation between authors and readers.

Traditional publishers bring enormous value to the production and distribution of physical paper books. But there really needs to be an honest assessment on the part of all stakeholders about whether they also are in a position to bring value to the electronic marketplace, and, if they do, how the money generated should be fairly split. Not a lot of publishers have engaged with this. I had dinner recently with two editors from a major New York publishing house (not Penguin), and neither of them had any idea at all that Amazon was offering authors 70% royalties if the authors published directly for the Kindle platform; these editors thought the 25% of net proceeds their publishing company was offering as ebook royalties was fair and competitive.

The Fleming estate does make valid a point about the value of the James Bond brand. For those who have sometimes observed that I, and some of my colleagues, are perhaps a bit too awards-conscious, I’ll point out that winning awards (such as the Hugo and Nebula in my own field of science fiction) makes an author into a brand name; those wins trump any publisher’s logo that might appear on a paper book’s spine.

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6 Responses to Fleming estate publishes ebooks directly

  1. Interesting regarding the huge gap in remuneration between Amazon and (the apparently clueless!) traditional publishers.

    I don’t have a Kindle device, but I do have Kindle for PC. Out of the five or so books I’ve downloaded (only three of which I paid for–the others were free), I finished reading just one, and only began reading one other. In the mean time, I’ve read a couple dozen traditional printed books. I guess I’m still transitioning to the new media. I want to like ebooks, but…they keep making better models of e-readers all the time, so buy now or wait another year?

    My printed books are in a format that will last a lifetime. The only real disadvantage being that they take up a lot of physical space, they don’t arrive from Amazon instantaneously, and they use an arguably limited natural resource.

    The ebook has the advantage of lower price and instant delivery, but those really cheap novels published on Amazon do lack something important–good marketing, editing (sometimes…if you read some of the reviews and summaries, it’s painfully obvious) and publicity.

    Oh, and the cover art work. It doesn’t really come across as powerfully in an e-book. In fact, it’s often perfunctory. You lose some of the aesthetic experiences of book-reading with a Kindle.

    Until it gets to the point where you can’t tell a self-published e-book from a big publishing house product, I think the big name publisher will still have the advantage.

    One advantage to authors marketing their own e-books is that I think it gives the reader a feeling of more immediate connection to the author. There are some opportunities there for the author to connect with both new and old readers through blogging or other formats like twitter; to promote and keep alive older books that have fallen out of print (in traditional format); and to create a wider and more dynamic fan base than mere printed books allow.

    I liked WWW Wake. Maybe I should get myself a Kindle and read the second book in the series now rather than waiting for the paperback next spring. LOL

  2. I am really, really impressed by the latest generation Kindle (the so-called Kindle 3 graphite). It’s a terrific reading experience, and, at $139, well worth the money.

  3. I checked the Kindle 3 out. I didn’t realize how much it held or how long the battery lasted or that I could read the NY Times on there for so cheap. I’m tempted…I think I’m going to go for it. I wonder if my 13 & 11 year-old daughters could handle one of these? I am smelling an easy out on my Christmas shopping. haha

    You know what would really enhance e-books for me would be the text on Kindle but an option to have a 5×7 postcard mailed to me with the book’s full-color cover on it so I could enjoy the art. Like a trading card–just to satisfy that collector aspect of book buying. I guess I could print my own from the images on Amazon….hmm.

  4. As with any new technology, there is a period of uncertainty until it becomes commonplace. I think electronic publishing still falls into this category. After all, we still see a whole lot of printed books being sold in traditional bookstores, as well as printed magazines and newspapers.

    While it is undeniable that e-publishing should be the way of the future, I somehow get the feeling that publishers are trying to skin it for all its worth while they can. E.g. those two clueless editors and their companies. Apparently, what happened to musicians vs. record companies is happening to writers vs. publishers regarding e-publishing. That is, big bad companies getting bigger and badder on the back of the authors/composers. For that reason, I applaud the move by the Fleming estate, and share Rob’s doubts about the usefulness of a middleman when it comes to e-publishing.

    With that said, I also happen to doubt the usefulness of the current electronic readers, Kindle, whatnot. Cheap or not, they are just another clunky piece of technology to carry around, purposefully limited in capabilities to be book-reading devices. And that has everything to do with business considerations and nothing to do with technological limitations. Any notebook or tablet computer, or iPad gadget is capable to act as a book-reading device, and on top of that they are full-blown computers with an order of magnitude more usefulness. Granted, the e-ink technology has its own charms, but that’s not the point. The point is that companies marketing these devices are staking out their turf as monopolies, and that is not for the benefit of end-users. It is akin to kids in kindergarten crying for attention: look, what I can do, buy me, buy, me, buy me.

    I think reading devices will be really practical the day when they become wearable, such as glasses. Then text, images, anything, could be projected in front of one’s eyes, while one’s hands will not be burdened by handling the reader. Commuting by bus could suddenly become very attractive. The technology is around for years, only the business interest isn’t. Finally at that time these devices will be practical, not just another clunky piece of technology to carry around.

  5. Bravo to the Ian Fleming estate!

    I honestly don’t have a problem with publishers in general, but it seems that far too few of them really know how to deal with eBooks. For example, the genius PTB at Macmillan actually raised the prices of a number of eBooks which were already out to match the special edition hardcover editions they were coming out with.

    Robert, your experience at the lunch with these two editors simply goes to demonstrate the problem… the traditional publishing establishment is just fundamentally unaware of what’s going on with eBooks.

    @LeeAnn Balbirona – What you said about cover artwork probably applies mostly to the b&w readers like the Kindle. I use the iPad for a reader… and for the eBooks where they bother, the color cover graphics look gorgeous. The only problem is that they don’t do it for all titles, or else sometimes they try to get away with a low-rez, high-compression image that just looks like crap.

  6. I haven’t looked at the e-reader hardware yet but in my imagination I see them as being a great way to publish books that otherwise would be costly to print. I don’t think for a minute that I am expecting too much.

    Websites provide full colour photos, drawings and user-chosen text fonts. Why wouldn’t e-readers? A book of flower/botany photography, for example, would be ideal in electronic form in which the reader could look up plants by various properties. E-books should have at minimum, the full hyperlink capability of a website in an off-line format. Anything less is useless.

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