For the Traditionally Published: Do You Hold Your Own eBook Rights?

While many authors that I deal with today are up and coming or established independent/self-publishers, what about traditionally published authors who haven’t yet but want to make the leap to ebooks? One of the things that readers cringe at is the so-called publishing cycle; ever hear that your favorite author has a book you haven’t read, but when you track it down you find it’s out-of-print and unavailable? In the digital age, nothing should ever be out-of-print, nor are there any significant print, distribution, or warehouse costs.

This is a link to an article regarding just such a question: a traditionally published author making reasonable money being offered a relative pittance by their publisher with the claim that 15% royalty on electronic delivery is the maximum they are allowed. Additionally, the author is also being told that if they don’t accept it, they will continue getting the same 5% they’ve been getting for the print sales and that the publisher technically has the rights to ALL printed material whether on dead trees or in ones and zeros (yeah, that’s sounds a bit fishy). And what if the author doesn’t like it?

… we’d much rather go forward with your blessing/involvement.

Ouch. Really? In this day and age? Compare this to all-digital publishing.

First of all, 25% royalty (in the US of A) seems to be a normal minimum, but sites like Smashwords.com offer 70% to their creators. Book costs are lower ($0.99 up to $4.99 per book seems to be reasonable, the price of a smart phone or tablet app) but sales are made up for in volume. Some publishers (such as Kindle Direct Publishing via Amazon.com) are attempting to create exclusivity by offering higher rates and perks (such as lending rights for actual money) if you don’t sell your books elsewhere.

Also, many of those contracts never considered a change in medium to a digital space. Like moving from books or comics to film and television, Kevin Smith (aka “Silent Bob” in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) may have said it best (in the actual film, no less): “When said property was optioned… you were legally obliged to secure our permission to transfer the concept to another medium. As you failed to do that… you are in breach of the original contract, ergo you find yourself in a very actionable position.”

But 15%? Sounds like someone is hoping (and praying) this author doesn’t have a clue and won’t bother to find out more.

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