In a blog post on its own website, backlist e-publisher E-Reads points out that it is now paying advances for e-book rights (and actually has been for several months). It notes that in a Publishers Weekly article looking at e-book publisher royalties, of all the publishers surveyed only E-Reads was paying advances.
The PW article notes that E-Reads founder Richard Curtis found a lot of agents were reluctant to offer rights to backlist titles without any money offered up front—it simply wasn’t a publishing model they were familiar with. Most of Curtis’s advances are fairly small, just in the few-hundred-dollars range, but it is apparently the thought that counts—and E-Reads’s 50-50 profit share means that books have the potential to earn out pretty quickly.
Curtis said that he sees advances as incentives in what is becoming an increasingly competitive marketplace, where authors and agents may withhold e-book rights when they sell print rights in order to get a better deal for the e-book. "The e-book industry has been moving toward an independent marketplace for e-book rights separated from print rights, the way authors and agents reserve audio rights and movie rights," said Curtis.
The E-Reads blog post notes that E-Reads has been around since 2000 and currently offers 1,200 backlist titles. It points out that agents usually throw e-book rights in for no additional advance money in deals with mainstream publishers, but the growth of the e-book industry makes it more feasible for e-publishers to offer royalties for those rights when offered separately.
It also links to a Digital Book World piece on Curtis’s founding of E-Reads, inspired by the Ben Bova novel Cyberbooks. It’s an interesting piece, touching on the potential conflict of interest inherent in a literary agent becoming a publisher (which Curtis was dealing with ten years before Philip Wylie’s recent Amazon bombshell) and the changes that the growth of the e-book has finally begun to bring to the publishing industry.
Curtis says that as publishers have been moving to entirely digital editorial processes, he has changed his approach to submitting manuscripts as an agent.
“The ebook part of my business and the agent part have cross-pollinated each other,” he explains. “Tricks we learned from the IT guys down the hall are helping me to create submission packages that are really quite amazing. By clicking on a page of our website you can all but see the entire book that I’m offering. It’s so much easier for you to envision what the author is like, who the author is, what he or she sounds like, looks like, how they act on television, what the content will be, what the interactive elements are going to be.”
He also does not believe that e-books will cause the “death” of print, though feels that there will be major changes in the way printed books are produced. He expects the current inefficient “returns” model for printed books to be overthrown, perhaps by an e-book retailer such as Amazon buying a major publishing company.
I find it interesting indeed that an e-publisher is beginning to offer even small advances on backlist titles. I think that it further serves to “legitimize” e-publishing, and certainly makes E-Reads more attractive to writers looking for a place to sell their backlists.
One thing that’s worth noting is that E-Reads’s e-book store is currently run through Fictionwise, and is going to be affected by the recently-announced closing of individual publishers’ branded Fictionwise stores at the end of September. It does not mean they will stop selling books through Fictionwise, but rather that they will simply have to link to Fictionwise in a different way.