Guardian takes up UK Society of Authors statement: Traditional publishing terms no longer fair or sustainable

SoA logoAfter UK Society of Authors head Nicola Solomon wrote to TeleRead in the wake of the release of the UK Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) report on author earnings, The Guardian picked up the same statement from her to endorse the SoA view that “the terms many publishers are demanding are no longer fair or sustainable.” And this time The Guardian, hitherto a more than somewhat anti-Amazon publication, only mentioned Amazon briefly and in positive terms, in the context of self-publishing.

The Guardian mostly covers the same ground that Solomon already went over in her Q&A with TeleRead, and the arguments also covered here, but it does touch more on the topic of self-publishing, and how well this can renumerate authors. It quotes author Mark Edwards, who after a brief flirtation with HarperCollins, “returned to self-publishing, which rescued my writing career.”

Some may say I’m being too obsessive in constantly bringing Amazon into this debate. I don’t think so. I don’t believe the whole discussion around the ALCS report would have got half as much airing but for the ongoing Hachette/Amazon dispute pushing it to the fore. And especially since Hachette tried to make the issue of lost earnings for its authors a major point against Amazon. Now we have close public scrutiny of the actual earnings that Hachette and its ilk deliver to their authors, and the picture doesn’t look pretty. Own goal, Big Five.

6 Comments on Guardian takes up UK Society of Authors statement: Traditional publishing terms no longer fair or sustainable

  1. Oh, I wouldn’t worry much about those Hachette profits. If a publisher gets too cheap with successful authors, they can move to another publisher quite easily. The same is not true of an ebook retailer who owns 70% of the market. That’s not easy to bypass.

    And keep in mind that Amazon recently revealed to German officials that it thinks that it deserves 40-50% of an ebook’s price for simply retailing it, something that costs mere pennies. That’d leave little for the publisher and author, particularly since they must cover almost all the costs of creating, formatting and publicizing that book. Remember, just because Amazon sells your book and sends you a check doesn’t mean it is doing anything for you.

    Also, keep in mind that the 70% creator, 30% retailer split was set by Apple about seven years ago for music files. The enormous drop in the cost of providing online retail and cloud services means that an 80% creator and 20% retailer split today is profitable. (That is what Smashwords offers.) Anything less than that and the author/publisher are getting ripped off. Amazon goal, 50/50 is sheer robbery.

    It’s likely that, left to itself, Amazon would create an ebook market where its profits (income divided by costs) are in the order of several hundred percent. It’s already true that its profits per ebook sale are about twice those of Apple and its ebook download charge represents about a 1,000% more income for Amazon per megabyte than its own AWS service charges for a similar file download. Heck, when I checked a few months ago Amazon’s 15 cents per megabyte was about three times the most expensive rate that Verizon charges for cellphone data.

    Remember too that, if a publisher treats you badly, you can self-publish. They have no control over your distribution. If Amazon treats you badly, where will you go? In the U.S., Amazon does control 70% of ebook distribution.

    If I had the time, I’d create a bright red t-shirt. On the front, it’d say “I am an Amazon Author” with a frowning rather than smiling symbol. On the back, it’d say, “Kick me. I’m a wimp.” That about sums up my attitude toward Amazon’s fanboys. They seem to want to be abused. Not me!

  2. William Ockham // July 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm //

    Hey, Michael, you will be wearing one of those shirts, right? Because you are still selling your books on Amazon. If you will wear it, I would be happy to make one for you. Because what is wimpier than a writer who constantly whines about how evil Amazon is, but is too gutless to take his books off of Amazon.

  3. I think William makes a pretty valid point. Funny how Michael never seems to address it. I took a guess at why that was, but he never addressed that, either.

  4. Guys, can we focus on the fundamental point – *two* official national bodies for authors now state categorically that standard terms offered by traditional publishers no longer work. This is no longer indies or Amazon junkies carping from the sidelines. And no, you can’t easily move to another publisher who offers better, purely because these are standard terms. Good luck getting enough leverage on a publisher to demand a change in terms, unless you’re already a bestselling author.

    That’s a case that established publishers are failing to answer. And they need to, because with the SoA and The Guardian now coming onside with the self-publishing value case, they may start losing UK authors at least in droves.

  5. And even if the terms weren’t standardized, there’s no assurance an individual author could switch publishing houses. Best sellers, probably. Midlist authors, the ones being most hurt by contract terms? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on whether the new publisher wanted to take their work, and assuming the author hadn’t agreed to a crippling non-compete. It’s not as simple as saying, I don’t like Hachette, so let me move to S&S.

  6. What is required is a way of getting very small publishers and self published authors books accepted much easier into mainstream bricks and mortar bookshops. I know this would be difficult but if this occurred automatically then it would take some of the power away amazon because many people still see the goldstandard as being in large bookshops such as waterstones stores and not just available online.

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