Fool me once . . .

How good it is to see Simon and Schuster post such positive figures in these troubled times. Of course it begs a number of questions, not least how long it will be that publishers can continue to pull long faces and mutter darkly about the Scylla of recession and the Charybdis of e-books.

It does rather leap from the page that "Simon & Schuster's operating income before debt and amortisation (OIBDA) more than doubled to $7m", which the publisher said "was driven by lower shipping, production and returns costs because of the increase in digital sales".

Despite recent attempts to distract us all with talk of piracy and other costs associated with e-books this clearly indicates that is a massive red herring. There are costs associated with e-books, but they are clearly insignificant compared to the benefits.

At one major publishing company that I know of, when editors draw up a profit and loss projection when they are considering acquiring a book there is no column for e-book costs because they are regarded as being functionally zero and are simply dumped on to the hard back costs.

Of course the conglomerates are not alone in realizing that they are on to a good thing. Amazon's poaching of Christopher Schluep from Random House to add editorial muscle to their publishing division is hugely significant news.

If there is any organization on the planet with a real understanding of the value of the e-book market it is Amazon and the fact that they are honing in fast on publishers' territory is the clearest possible indicator there could possibly be of the viability and potential buoyancy of the publishing business.

The conglomerates dog in the manger approach to the issue of e-books is doing them no favours. The day is fast approaching when a truly major international author will realize they are going to be greatly better rewarded by being published by Amazon because they will offer them a sensible share of the revenues they generate.

The failure to offer major authors equitable escalated royalty rates is damaging decades old business relationships. It is in everyone's interests to have a vibrant and independent publishing industry – Amazon publishing will likely always be subservient to the retail needs of its parent. But as the gap in potential earnings grows wider, appeals to loyalty look increasingly like they are motivated by self interest.

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e-book viability in authors' worlds

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