Author Royalties in the Hot Seat
With ostensibly lower production costs and a rich vein of backlist titles to mine, it may have been inevitable that e-book publishers would leverage the advantages of their medium to offer authors a higher percentage roy-alty rate for their works. This did not make it any less of a jolt when celebrity author Stephen Covey signed a digital rights deal with e-book publisher RosettaBooks, garnering him more than half of net proceeds for e-book sales of two of his older backlist books, including the famous "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," which would be sold exclusively through Amazon.com for one year. (Covey's print books are published by Simon & Schuster, which released a statement reflecting its position that e-book versions of the company's print titles should remain part of the company's catalog.)
The much-publicized deal raised the curtain even higher on the issue of author contracts and negotiations in the age of e-books and other electronic delivery systems. While most publishers already take care to spell out the terms of electronic publishing in author contracts, the issue is relevant to many older titles, as well as to the sort of terms some authors will find acceptable in an age where unprecedented royalties are being dangled in front of a few.
The only thing all can agree on is that this is an issue very much in flux. As for its ultimate significance, this, too, is yet undefined.
"One thing remains clear: There are few successful e-books unless there is also a successful paper book [with it]," says Donald Maass, principal of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York. "E-royalties are important, but ancillary. Authors still must write great books, and publishers must publish them well. Welcome to the future—it looks a lot like the past."