23 June 2005

Weird Publishing News

A few weird pieces of publishing news before beginning the GroksterWatch for the day:

  • George Lucas and Lucasfilm have a (largely unearned and apocryphal) reputation in the author community for being relatively pro-author. Yeah, right. WFH contracts and all, eh? And, at least based on one author's allegations, not even the WFH pay. Frankly, I believe the author on this one, both on general principles and based on some other information. What I find astounding is that it's taken so long for anybody to do anything.
  • Then, too, there's Google's ill-considered digitization program, about which publishers (nine months after announcement) are becoming concerned, "viewing with alarm," and "suggesting" a "voluntary" moratorium. One argument that Google makes is that it will only make excerpts from in-copyright works available. Some people mistakenly think this is necessarily fair use. The problem with that position is that even if one were to grant arguendo that excerpts (let's say under 1,000 words per book) were always fair use—a position inconsistent with Nation Enterprises—that doesn't justify making a digital copy of the entire book. If Google will only make excerpts available, that's all that it should be scanning at this time, particularly of books that have a decade or more remaining on their respective copyright terms.
  • Over at the UK-based Grumpy Old Bookman, Mr Allen has a series on author advances in progress (part 1, part 2, and today's part 3). In general, I think his explanation is a good one. I'd quibble with a couple of details—for example, in serious nonfiction over here the internal numbers used to calculate the publisher's proposed advance are usually 75–80% of the expected sales in the first 18 months, rather than 100% sell-through on the anticipate first print run—but his most damning comments are spot on.

    One specific example suffices. There is an increasing trend by publishers to impose a "net receipts" basis for royalty calculations, instead of the traditional "cover price" basis. On a $24.95 cover-price book, a 10% royalty pays the author:

    10% * $24.95 = $2.495 per copy actually sold, or

    10% * ($24.95 - 40%) = $1.497 per copy actually sold at the standard bookstore long discount, which accounts for around 80% of the typical serious trade nonfiction market

    And, of course, if Wal-Mart or another "big box" retailer that manages to impose an even bigger discount is involved, the author's share shrinks further. If we want to hold the author's per-copy income steady while changing the calculation basis, the common 10%/12%/15% royalty escalator would need to be approximately 16.5%/20%/25%. Gee, that doesn't seem to be happening, does it?