If big authors do not need big publishers, then what are big publishers for?
If the rumours are true (and they would seem to be) and JK Rowling has sidelined the publishing industry to put the Harry Potter series into electronic formats under her own imprint then today marks the start of a new era in publishing.
I have been saying for more than two years that the fact that all the big publishers woke up one morning deciding that a flat 25% royalty was fair and reasonable for all authors – and that not to agree to it would be a deal breaker - may have made short term sense but was seriously risky in the long term.
If big authors do not need big publishers then what are big publishers for? An author’s ties of loyalty to publishers are, rightly, often enormous: most feel their success is shared with the team who have helped build it. Publishing is a deeply collaborative process and most publishers are passionate about what they do: there are many reasons for authors to want to be loyal to publishers.
However, the disparity between what the worlds biggest authors are capable of earning by publishing their own e-books and what their publishers are offering them has grown so enormous that that loyalty is being severely tested. We are talking about millions of pounds.
Brand authors will still need their paper books published, but there are plenty of extremely able mid sized houses fully capable of publishing bestsellers who would be only to happy to relinquish e-book rights in order to publish some of the worlds biggest authors.
The conglomerates have been playing it tough, but today’s news makes that look like a worryingly empty threat.
E-books are by no means as cheap to publish as some people on the blogosphere would have it. Apart from anything else the burden of the costs of the paper books should be born across all editions. But the simple fact is that once an e-book is selling in the hundreds of thousands it is capable of generating massive profits for remarkably little overhead and unless publishers share that revenue more fairly – and soon – there will be other global brands following suit.
I just wish I represented more of them.
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