On digital rights

Several thoughts have been swimming in my brain concerning ebooks and digital versions of books recently. All the chat about Backlist problems makes you wonder why Authors have been so willing to sign over their digital rights to Publishers who have really shown themselves incapable of selling or exploiting them properly.

PersonaNonData has some interesting thoughts on how ebooks should be sold:

I ran a direct mail business for a short time (no prior experience) and I was so proud of myself because I figured out that I could determine the total number of units sold for each promotion with as few as three data points. (This is basic direct mail – go figure). Some of these promotions could run six months but the experience from promotion to promotion was always consistent. Book titles sold on a title by title basis or aggregated as in the long tail analysis will act the same way. What this means is that publishers will be able to choose their spots and maximize revenue by bringing e-book titles out at logical times according to where units sold indicate they are on the curve. Additionally, they can – and should – manipulate (lower) prices the further out on the curve the title is.

The problem with this idea, while appealing for publishers is that for authors it stinks. Oh sure there is a milkable stream of revenue from a book just as there is in the current field that uses this type of system, Movie distribution. But, and this is a huge but, the control is even worse. Where you have a sometimes 18 months wait from delivery to publication of a print book, when will you see revenues from ebooks? 24-30 months later? Wonderful and how exactly will that help you build profile and what if the publisher was unhappy with print sales do they ship the ebook early and unannounced just to be rid of the whole thing?

The solution really, really stinks and leads me to conclude that maybe the best option for authors is to retain digital rights for themselves of the finalised book. Pay for a designer to design an ebook and either release it free or go to an ebook publisher who markets the book in its own right. Or else demand that if the publisher wants to retain the digital rights they promote the book from day one and push sales at a discount to the paperback. All in all I think this harps back to my Authors will drive change post.

Unless publishers start to shift the ground they operate on, we will be left with a hopelessly outdated product offering for the people that supply our content, Authors. What strikes me though is that while so many of the people I know in this business are smart and capable the inertia is so pronounced. Surely the collective wisom of so many wise heads should have resolved this issue by now? It cannot go on for ever and it will not.

Contemplating the digital

One thought on “On digital rights

  1. You raise a good point. What I was trying to get at is that there exists a yield curve which can be measured accurately based on prior experience if people are willing to do the work. With the advent of the e-book format as an increasingly important alternative managing the curve becomes imperative so that profit is maximized. Hopefully the author and publisher have the same motivation – although there probably still need to be some contractual changes which will be resisted by publishers. An additional point I should have made is that if publishers were more intelligent about pricing after publication as demand declines then they might be able to cut into the second hand book business. There are more aspects to this issue than can be presented in a blog but I agree with your basic point that it has to change. Some of the existing fundamental business flaws of our business may only become more pronounced with the prevalance of e-books.

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