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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Negotiating eBook rights

What royalty is your publisher offering for digital rights?

As Digital Book World points out, it is too easy to be trapped in an out-of-date arrangement

Publishers and authors are shaping new standard contracts as the industry shifts toward digital-first and e-original book publishing.

As opposed to big publishers, which are thought to pay authors a standard ebook royalty of 25%, new independent ebook publishers like The Atavist, Open Road Media and OR Books, can and do pay authors substantially more. But, on what terms? And, royalties aren’t the only issue at hand as a new publishing landscape emerges.

There are six basic issues at stake in an ebook contract negotiation:
1. Duration
2. Territory
3. Consent
4. E-functionality
5. Medium
6. Royalty

The world is moving on so fast that duration is a major issue. Many authors and agents, as DBW comments, are now putting a five-year limit on digital rights.

Territory is more difficult, in my opinion. It is common for big publishers to ask for world rights, even if they have few facilities for translation or selling foreign rights.  This makes it easy for them to sell digital books, as they don't have to vet the origin of the purchaser.  If you limit the territory, the publisher will say that there will be a bar on the sales page -- but how do you check this?  Does it really work?

Consent means what input the author has in the actual form of the book.  If there is a clause saying something like "at the Publisher's discretion," then your book can look very different in digital form than it does in print.  I fell into this trap myself.  One of the great features of the print version of Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator is that it is a beautifully illustrated, beautifully designed book.  The digital version is totally unillustrated.  Be warned.

E-Functionality is the clause where you need a crystal ball.  What are eReading devices going to look like in the future? The possibilities offered by interactive reading are hugely exciting, and mostly still on the horizon.  So keep this as open as possible.

Medium also addresses the world of apps. Does the author want to retain the right to put out an eBook that is replete with links and video clips? This, obviously, is an expensive proposition.  Nevertheless, it should be carefully debated.

Royalty.  This is a major, major reason why so many established authors are heading for the Indiesphere. As one commented to me, "Why should I give a publisher 90% of what I am making?"  In the old days, author's royalty from digital sales was set at 20%.  Then it moved to 25%.  Indie authors get up to 70%.  Obviously, this clause is open to energetic negotiation before the contract with a traditional publisher is set in stone.  And it is another very good reason for limiting the duration of the eBook rights.

For more information on ebook royalties, contracts and negotiations, attend Digital Book World 2013 in New York in January.

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