By Roger Tagholm
Upon the news of the official launch of digital publishing house Canelo in the UK this week — which is offering no advances to author’s but royalties of between 50-60% to authors (as discussed here) — Kate Pool, Deputy Chief Executive of the UK Society of Authors, said she had not seen any individual Canelo contracts, but observed: “A 50% royalty – assuming it is based on net receipts, not profits – may be good. Of course it’s better than a royalty of 10%. Whether the proposal is quite as tempting as that headline figure might suggest, and given what other options may be open to the author, I could not say without knowing the full details.”
It is these “other options” that are increasingly to the fore now, and Pool believes that the issue of what rights a publisher takes, and for how long, and in return for what royalties, must these days depend very significantly on what the publisher is doing in return.
“The rise of the internet, Amazon, ebooks, e-lending etc, and the viability now of manufacturing copies only in ultra-short-runs or as print-on-demand [PoD], mean that increasingly traditional publishing contracts – the license of rights, the division of income, the ‘out of print’ provisions – are simply not appropriate,” she said.
“If a work is to be PoD/ultra short-run and/or ebook only, and the author is being paid only a minimal, or no, advance, in my view the comparison is not only with how those terms compare with a traditional contract, but also how they compare with the fact that an author can self-publish in such forms, at almost zero cost, perfectly well. And the self-publishing author retains all rights and 100% of any income, and can cease self-publishing almost instantly should a better offer, such as a fat advance from an established publishing house, come along.
“In such cases we would advise an author to be very clear about exactly what added value a publisher is bringing to the project, and whether it is worth what that publisher is seeking to take in return. For a POD/ebook-only deal, for instance, we would expect the publisher to take only a very narrow grant of rights – for the license period to be no more than, say, five years with earlier termination if sales fall below an agreed threshold in the previous 12 months. Also, unless the added value is more than that which an agent would deliver, we would like the publisher to retain in the region of, in effect, a 15% agency commission.”