The Name is Book, E Book.

The Ian Fleming Estate has realized what so many other published authors already know — that if you own the digital rights to your backlist, it makes more financial sense to publish the ebooks yourself.  So the estate is publishing the digital versions of the Bond novels themselves, cutting out Penguin, which still has the entire series in print. The London Telegraph says that this move could be the beginning of a wave of established authors choosing to self-publish the digital versions of their highly successful franchises.

The books industry could lose out on millions of pounds because publishers have failed to sign up the digital rights to authors, who are expected to bypass traditional publishing houses in favour of Amazon or Google.

Industry insiders suggested that blockbusting authors including JK Rowling, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie would be looking at the deal closely.

The digital versions of the 007 books will be published by Ian Fleming Publications, which administers the rights to the Bond books.

[…]There are many authors still working that have not signed away the digital rights to their books, allowing them to cut out their traditional publisher if they chose to. Agents said they had grown increasingly irritated by the low royalty rates offered by publishers for digital rights.

This development doesn’t surprise me at all, especially in light of the sobering news from Publishers Weekly this week about the plunge in “paper” sales and the incredible surge in digital in September.

As sales in the traditional trade segments plunged in September, e-book sales jumped 158.1%, according to the monthly sales estimates released by the Association of American Publishers. Sales for the 14 publishers that reported e-book sales hit $39.9 million in the month, and were up 188.4% in the first nine months of the year to $304.6 million. In contrast, sales in the three adult trade segments, adult hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback, all fell by more than double digits with the adult hardcover segment experiencing the biggest decline with sales down 40.4% at the 17 publisher who reported sales to the AAP of $180.3 million. The only other segment to post a significant sales gain in September was downloadable audio with sales from the nine reporting companies up 73.7%, to $7.7 million. Sales of audio CDs fell 42.6%, to $11.6 million, in the month at the 22 reporting companies.

Established authors with a large back-list, whether the titles are in print or not, could see significant increases in their revenues putting the digital versions of those books out themselves. And the news is getting around. Look for a surge in 2011 of established authors self-publishing the digital versions of their backlists.

This has agents scrambling for an approach on how to get a share of this potential income. I’ve already heard that some agents are talking about inserting clauses in their new agency agreements with authors that grant them commissions on the digital self-publication of any books for which they negotiated the original print deals. It will be interesting to see how that goes over.

6 thoughts on “The Name is Book, E Book.”

  1. I’ve already heard that some agents are talking about inserting clauses in their new agency agreements with authors that grant them commissions on the digital self-publication of any books for which they negotiated the original print deals.
    Wow. There’s a concept. Take a percentage of royalties from a publishing arrangement you didn’t even make. Nice work if you can get it. Nice try, but no dice. 🙂

  2. My agent negotiated the original sale of some of my now out-of-print backlist to a publisher.
    At this point no one is making money on them. Out-of-print means the only ones raking in cash are used book dealers who are selling battered paperbacks for 40 bucks a pop on Amazon. (Or trying to!)
    The one title in the bunch that has an e-version has a price of 18.00 to download. Why should an e-book buyer pay so much when pirated copies are available or it’s free at the library?
    Most book buyers want to do the right thing by the authors they love and are willing to buy a reasonably priced hard copy via a POD service or a 2.99 e-book via Kindle and others.
    Also, since I wrote the books, a new generation has grown up, comfortable with e-readers, and they’re starting to discover my works. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a mail asking when digital versions will be out.
    I’ve asked my long-suffering, but excellent agent to get the rights to those books back.
    It’s only fair, that in payment for her efforts–because her time IS valuable–she gets her usual 15% on any sales I make for digital books. Without her, those titles could be tied up for years.
    If the publisher isn’t interested in reprinting them–or bringing the digital price down and my royalties up–then I want the rights reverted to me. Such earnings are a pittance to the publisher, not worth their effort, to me it’s a potential mortgage payment or three.
    I can have all those titles up and earning within a month of getting them back. I don’t mind sharing with my agent. She works hard and keeps steering new contracts and money my way, and I’m glad and lucky to have her in my corner.

  3. Thanks for that, but there is a sticky situation in play with one publisher and sending me in would just make it worse.
    My agent has the touch of an angel, able to accomplish diplomatic miracles with a gentle word and smile.
    But I’m more of a near-sighted Berserker with a war hammer and chaotic aim.
    If she can get those rights back–and it is a questionable thing–she will have more than earned her 15% yet again. ;>)

  4. I’ve gotten my reversions on my own, and in one case the Authors Guild helped me. Some will eventually be electronic books.

  5. Hi Anonymous Pro,
    I realize your situation may be a bit unusual. Even so, it seems to me you’re confusing the issues a bit.
    Your rights either revert (or they don’t) under a contract arranged through the efforts of your agent. So, as I see it, your agent has already been compensated for that deal and all work associated with it.
    My point is that once you’ve regained full use of your rights, if you self-publish, your agent hasn’t done anything to broker that deal. That’s what agents get compensated for.
    Any money you pay your agent for being diplomatic and helping you work this out without consulting lawyers or groups like The Authors Guild (the next logical step) is pretty much out of the goodness of your heart. As such, your agent should probably be paid a bonus, rather than a percentage of a deal she never made. Just sayin’.


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