Sunday, November 01, 2009

Publisher saves on costs, passes savings on to authors (Just kidding)

Macmillan is is lowering its royalty payments to authors on e-books, the New York Times reports.

I thought the whole point of e-books was to lower production, shipping, storage and distribution costs — to save money, in other words. Would it hurt Macmillan to throw a bit of that extra money to the people who write the books instead of squeezing them even more? I have only the most cursory acquaintance with publishing, but it's my understanding that authors are now expected to assume (and pay for) promotional and even editing responsibilities that publishers once assumed.

From my outsider's perspective, one quotation in the article makes a lot of sense: “I don’t really understand the logic since e-books really do not require any additional work on the part of the publisher.”

(From my insider's perspective, the Times article refers to a cut of 5 percent when it really means 5 percentage points. Who needs copy editors, anyhow?)

(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

32 Comments:

Blogger John McFetridge said...

I have mixed feelings, having just signed with Thomas Dunne/St. Martins, a division of Macmillan. Sure, I'd like a bigger cut but on the other hand there wasn't exactly a line-up to publish my books. St. Martins is still publishing a lot of books each year and taking chances new writers like me.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

John

Well I'm bringing out a paperback book next year with Picador (a Macmillan imprint) and I've got a book under consideration at Thomas Dunne/St Martins (put in a good word for me John wont ya?) and although I'm not happy about the cuts, in this economy I'd be happy just to get bloody published anywhere.

Fortunately St Martins is bringing out Mitt Romney's new book and I'm sure that will generate as much excitement as Sarah Palin's.

Uh, why are you giving me that funny look?

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, St. Martin's, Minotaur (and Picador) have outstanding crime lists that probably form a disproportionate share of what I write about here. And I say thumbs-up to anyone who puts you into print.

I just don't know how to approach this question. I don't know what the economics are of book publishing, other than that they're not very good right now. I just don't like to see yet one more example of what seems to be a pattern in American life and industry: concentrate on the big, neglect the small and middle, reduce the care you give the product, and shift burdens from the company to the worker.

I suppose I'm a bit more worried by this announcement because e-books are such a small chunk of the market now but could become a much larger one. The rationale for the cut may be less to save money now than to set an artificially low royalty standard for when (and if) e-books have a bigger market share.

Again, readers who know more than I do about the publishing business are welcome to weigh in.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, see the comment immediately above. I'm pleased as all hell that the Macmillan imprints are getting people like you and John and Dennis Tafoya and Louise Penny and Eliot Pattison and many more out there. I just don't like to see workers getting it in the neck, especially important ones like writers.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

If it were like the NFL Stephen King and Dan Brown would be salary capped and the money would slosh down to the rest of us. But its more like International Soccer. There are seven or eight big profitable clubs and everyone else is drowning.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Hey, a salary cap, what an idea.

We hear a lot about that here because the American soccer league, MLS, is using the NFL model and has a salary cap (they also have the "Beckham rule, of course, so each team gets one over-the-hill player above the cap if they want) and people complain it isn't as good as the European leagues.

Others point out the NFL has 32 profitable teams with no debt (even Jacksonville and my Bills are drowning in red ink).

I guess when people claim that publishing the mega-sellers gives them the capital to publish writers starting out we believe them - a salary cap and a required roster size would guarantee it.

Of course we'd all just want to make sure we didn't get drafted by the Browns....

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

As a long-time reader of The Wall Street Journal, I'm tempted to make a snarky comment about the Times here. But I've also seen some flagrant errors crop up in the old WSJ, so I'll keep my mouth shut.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, the Wall Street Journal has always been a better-written paper than the Times, but it's the Times that has traditionally been held up as a model within the profession. New copy editors at my paper, for example, were traditionally given a book on style by a former NYT editor.

Perhaps the Journal's background as a niche paper for financial news worked against the possibility of its being held up as a model for general, all-purpose newspapers.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, do people really claim that publishing the mega-sellers lets the big houses publish writers starting out? I suppose that's a traditional assumption, but is there any evidence to back it up? And has the phenomenon become less pronounced in recent years? More? Stayed the same?

What would be the equivalent of hoping you don't get drafted by the Browns? Hoping your rookie three-book deal is not with a publisher of cat mysteries or self-help books?

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, what I'd like to know is what the Premiere League's Big Four and so on have done to the rest of English and European soccer.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hey, John: Does the CFL still have a rule that limits the number of imports per team?

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter -

Yet more discouraging news from the publishing industry. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Using soccer as a model, shouldn't authors who wrote best-sellers twenty years ago but have been awful ever since get relegated?

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, Brian, there are uneasy times for authors, all right. But this item is more puzzling than some of the other recent discouraging publishing news. On the surface, the rationale for it is hard to find.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I like that suggestion, as long as authors who wrote superb books years ago but nothing since are not subject to it.

Speaking of relegation, isn't the grade inflation in English soccer division names an example of the devaluation of words? It's one thing to rename the old First Division and call it the Premiere League. And I suppose it's one thing when the former Second Division follows suit and becomes, I think, the Championship. But it's vaguely disturbing that the old designations "First Division" and "Second Division," which once meant what they said, have migrated downward and now designate the third and fourth tiers of English soccer.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

And switching sports entirely, but cleverly staying within the bad newspaper themesome people in Philadelphia are confident of victory

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And switching media entirely but staying within the non-existent-editing and semiliterate-writing themes, the local Fox 29 article to which your comment links refers to the "bogus" ad. The Inquirer mistake was stupid and embarrassing, and the ad was premature, but the Fox people appear not to know what bogus means. Nothing in the story suggests the ad was counterfeit or spurious.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian -

Curious ad in light of Philadelphians' typical pessimism.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I was wondering about the use of the word bogus there. I have the feeling that no one who works in the production dept. is over the age of 25. And I'll bet all of them studied TV and Film at college.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, the Inquirer's current ownership (my bosses, remember) has resorted to some pretty wild schemes to get attention, but this seems odd even by those standards. My guess would be that it was an old-fashioned screw-up of some kind.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, my guess is that you are correct, that illiteracy is responsible for the story's use of bogus. One other possibility is that the misuse was deliberate piling on the Inquirer now that the paper is going through very hard times. There have been some unsavory little examples of this in the city's free weekly papers.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, your comment reminds me of what a colleague of mine said when one of the weekly papers here referred to the Dublin-born owner of a local Irish pub as an "amiable Aussie."

Said my colleague: "They probably just gave it to someone named Jen and told her to go write the story."

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, did you know that Adrian and I have a dinner riding on the outcome of this World Series, the bet to be paid off at Bouchercon 2010? Looks like the Phils want to make Mr. McKinty and me sweat a little.

And I have to apologize for any bad vibes I may have sent your way this week. I was watching Game 4 at one of the best places to watch a baseball a game -- a non-sports bar -- when my peace was shattered by an obnoxious young lawyer who kept bellowing the most jejune, unfunny quips at the television. I tried to understand her position, though. She was a young criminal defense lawyer and still probably high on adrenaline, coffee, self-importance, overwork and lack of sleep. She may well turn out all right when she gets a bit older. I cast no aspersions on members of the bar. Some of my best friends are lawyers.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Brian

We are indeed. You're welcome to come too but I aint paying for you.

If I lose I was thinking about this little Indian joint just round the corner from Dashiell Hammett/Sam Spade's apt on Post Street.

I knew today was an L and I wonder a little why Girardi didnt pitch Gaudin and save a fully rested rotation for the last two games. I like the fact that we get Matsui back for 4 bats though, that could be edge.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The last few innings of that game can't leave Phillies fans too relaxed.

I wonder if you'd be throwing around invitations like that if the Phillies were leading the Yankees. Yes, Brian is welcome to join us. I'll be a graceful loser it the situation requires it, BUT I AIN'T PAYING FOR BRIAN, EITHER.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I win, I was thinking of a 48 oz. kobe beef steak and a few bottles of Brunello da Montalcino to start.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Who would have thunk that it all comes down to Pedro Martinez? Yankees should have Don Zimmer throw out the first pitch.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A fellow Canadian is rooting for the Phillies because of the Expos/Canadian connection of Pedro Martinez and Matt Stairs.

I remember a television camera lingering on Don Zimmer's face in the dugout once. It was a moment of cruelty to millions of viewers.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Well the Phillies had a Canadian sing the National Anthem which was nice.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Who was that? I thought it was people like Taylor Swift and John Oates who sang the anthem.

November 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Nope

It was a fellow Canuk

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I had missed that. I wonder why the Phillies decided on her. Maybe she was in town playing a gig.

She certainly hasn't had much of a career: one album that made a big splash, then the same songs recorded acoustically ten years later, and nothing else that I've heard of.

November 03, 2009  

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