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Top Authors Make eBook Deal, Bypassing Publishers 297

RobotRunAmok writes "Home to 700 authors and estates, from Philip Roth to John Updike, Jorge Luis Borges, and Saul Bellow, the Wylie Agency shocked the publishing world yesterday when it announced the launch of Odyssey Editions. The new initiative is selling ebook editions of modern classics, including Lolita, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Updike's Rabbit tetralogy, exclusively via's Kindle store, leaving conventional publishers out of the picture. The issue boils down to who holds digital rights in older titles published before the advent of ebooks, with publishers arguing that the ebook rights belong to them, and authors and agents responding that, if not specifically granted, the digital rights remain with the author. Publishers and authors are also at loggerheads over the royalty that should be paid for ebooks: authors believe they should be getting up to double the current standard rate of 25%, because ebooks are cheaper to produce than physical editions. (Amazon pays authors 70%.)"
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Top Authors Make eBook Deal, Bypassing Publishers

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  • A good idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sa666_666 ( 924613 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:15PM (#33004776)
    As far as I'm concerned, this is a very good thing. Any time one can get remuneration to the actual content creators instead of the middle-men is a good idea in my book. Now, maybe the prices will drop a little on these things. And in the future, maybe the movie industry can move this way too (yeah, I know, wishful thinking).
  • What took so long? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rivalz ( 1431453 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:20PM (#33004828)

    Seriously I understand publishing a book in multiple languages and in multiple countries is a big deal but they should have saw this one coming for a long time now. If you are the middle man and technology rears it's ugly head prepare to be marginalized or bypassed completely.
    I cannot wait for the day when this happens to Lawyers.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:23PM (#33004862) Journal

    >>>"with publishers arguing that the ebook rights belong to them, and authors and agents responding that, if not specifically granted, the digital rights remain with the author."

    This is the same argument that the music industry made with DVDs. The songs were licenses for TV and Videotapes, not for dvd, and therefore the music industry demanded more money for each song used. Likewise I think it's reasonable to say: the authors only licensed for books and audio, not electronic editions.

  • I'm not Shocked (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jchawk ( 127686 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:25PM (#33004898) Homepage Journal

    To be honest how can anyone be surprised at this? When books were set free from paper and placed onto the Internet it was only a matter of time before authors decided to cut out the publisher. They no longer have a need for them. Publishers should get wise and start to provide real value to the authors. If I write a book and do not require your editing, marketing or printing services why exactly do you expect to keep 75% of the sale price?

    Give it time and most large authors will just sell their ebooks directly via their own websites.

    This is exactly what the Internet is supposed to be about. Giving the little guy the chance to eliminate the need for the big guy.

    Cheers for these Authors!

  • Re:Good! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkKnightRadick ( 268025 ) <> on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:32PM (#33005008) Homepage Journal

    Seems to me that the literary agents are already doing marketing for their clients to publishers, for ebooks they could take the same cut they are now and go right to the distributor. "Hey Jeff baby, I got this book that'd be perfect in eBook/PDF for your Kindle and bring you loads of moolah. Lets do lunch."

  • Re:A good idea (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:35PM (#33005056)

    this is a very good thing. Any time one can get remuneration to the actual content creators instead of the middle-men is a good idea in my book.

    They're still using a middleman (Amazon) and it looks like they're going to have an exclusive deal with that one single middleman. So instead of multiple middlemen having to compete to offer them the most remuneration, there's just one.

    Worse, this particular middleman has a limited market for the books; these files will only be readable on Amazon products (rather than say, text files that anyone can read on anything), therefore the authors will only be selling to a fraction of the market that they could have had.

    If you want remuneration to go to the authors then I would have expected you to say this is a disaster, rather than a "very good thing."

    Maybe you're right in a long-term strategic sense, though. If the authors give a Fuck You to their dead-tree publishers and get away with it in court (backed by Amazon's deep pockets!), then after the retarded sales over the next two years, when the Amazon monopoly expires, a much more competitive/low-margin publisher market can develop. That's when the authors will be able to make some money.

  • Re:Good! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ergrthjuyt ( 1856764 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:37PM (#33005074)

    all seem to have this idea that they are entitled to more of the profits

    Just a small nitpick: taking a larger share of gross revenue != more of the profits. Legitimate expenses such as editing and marketing come into play. There isn't anything I know of that indicates that publishers are getting more of the actual profits. Otherwise I agree with your assertion.

    What I do find interesting is how closely related all of this is to music piracy and DRM. Everyone on slashdot seems to think it is a crime to want to sell music with drm, and conclude that the artist deserves to be pirated for such an offense. However, I don't see that argument being made here with respect to ebooks.

    The drm and copyright problem is more sinister and nuanced than most people realize. Many people argue that music artists shouldn't have the right to sell their music, they should give it away for free and perform live to make their livings.

    What would the book authors do?

  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wireless Joe ( 604314 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:37PM (#33005078) Homepage
    In this case, I'm assuming works like Lolita, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc. don't need marketing. For new authors, the huge up-front costs of advances, binding, distribution, etc. are gone (for digital distribution), reducingt publishing houses to simple marketing. If you're a new author, you just hire a marketing firm, which will not demand 75% of the profit, and distribute via Amazon or other no/low cost model.
  • Re:I'm not Shocked (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jahudabudy ( 714731 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:37PM (#33005086)
    I don't think ebooks will do away with physical books (and I certainly hope not). The difference between reading an ebook and a physical book is so great as to make them different products in my mind. I would guess that ~75% of books I have read electronically, I ended up purchasing physical copies for the re-read.
  • by Ngarrang ( 1023425 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:50PM (#33005236) Journal

    I imagine that many of the authors that this greatly effects are the ones that do this as a full-time job. If no one buys their books NEW, then they see no money, or maybe no future book deal. The profit margin approaches 100% after enough time and copies have sold. This allows the good authors to write full-time and not have to worry about asking if we want fries with our order. Book sales trail off after release, so the most money is to be made in that first year, though some books enjoy a long life of sales popularity. So, good for the authors.

    This is a very bad deal for consumers, in the end. My copy of "Nothing: The History of Zero" was a fun read. Now that I am done with it, I can give it to a friend, sell it, trade it in at Half-Priced Books, etc. In this way, I can recoup some of my cost. And the book can be purchased and resold many times, profits staying in the hands of the seller each time. The author makes nothing. The DRM on the eBooks prevents you from selling it, or giving it away.

    Thus, in a sly maneuver to make big publishing look like evil bastards (not a difficult task), the authors conveniently and quietly take control of book distribution and remove the freedom of the consumer to control the end product themselves. This is bad. Very bad.

    Thus, I am conflicted. Yay for getting what you deserve to be paid. Boo for limiting my ability to resell the book.

  • by proxima ( 165692 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:53PM (#33005278)

    What did Amazon offer to get exclusivity for two years? My hunch is that Amazon agreed to heavily promote the books on its site, and wouldn't do so if they also went to BN and Apple.

    Also, they apparently don't have the rights to decent looking book covers - the current covers are pretty ugly. Seriously - who thought it was a good idea to include quotations as cover art when it goes on devices like cell phones? Just the title and author in a decent font would do.


  • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:54PM (#33005292)

    Honestly, I don't get this. If you live in the middle of nowhere, you have a point. But good libraries will have virtually any book worth reading, or at least the vast majority (including tech books), and its freeeeeeeeee.

    So if you don't plan on keeping the book, why buy it in the first place? And if you're not sure, borrow it first, then buy it.

    I mean, i understand this DOES remove an option from you, but most of the time, that option was worthless in the first place.

  • Re:I'm not Shocked (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:54PM (#33005298) Journal

    The only issue is being able to "browse" for books as a consumer. I have NO idea where a website for an author that does not exist...exists. There has to be some way for me to know and word of mouth generally is not very efficient.

  • Re:A good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rwven ( 663186 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:56PM (#33005318)

    I'm less concerned with the prices dropping and more concerned with passing more of the benefit straight to the person who deserves it. Publishers, in general, are simply too greedy and controlling.

  • Re:Good! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by butterflysrage ( 1066514 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @01:56PM (#33005322)

    Now, in the case of physical items, such as printed books, etc, there is the issue of mass producing it, distribution, deals with resellers, etc, etc. I can see where merely _creating_ the original can potentially pale in comparison to the work it takes to actually make/move/sell the item.

    Obviously you have never written a book. My husband has been working on his fantasy novel for 10 years, tweaking it, changing it, improving it. Find me a single publisher that would spend 10 years developing the marketing or infrastructure to sell a book

  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:05PM (#33005446)
    Because so much has went into the *promotion* of these authors back when they were nobodies. It's real easy for a writer to go indie after he/she has become famous. But they forget about those early years when the publisher/newspaper/studio was taking a chance on them, and helping to promote them. Seems a little unfair to dump your publisher after you get the fame that they helped you achieve. It would be different if these authors has *started out* as indies.
  • Re:Good! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LandDolphin ( 1202876 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:05PM (#33005462)
    None, because the return on investment would be horrible. Your husband's return on time invested would be better spent being a day laborer outside of Home Depot. He's doing this for the love of the book and not the business aspect of it. Most professional authors wouldn't spend that much time on a single book unless they were doing it as a side project and more of a personal project then a professional project.
  • Re:Good! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:13PM (#33005556)

    10 years, or 10 'man-years'? Heh, I bet they spend a man-year just loading the books onto and off of trucks (lets see, 8 hours a day, 1 hour to unload per store... if they sell at ~3000 stores that seems valid), never mind printing, editing, promoting, and selling. Don't get me wrong, that your husband has worked tirelessly for 10 years shows that he has much more dedication than a publisher ever would, but in terms of cost the publisher's are going to be higher.

  • Re:A good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Suki I ( 1546431 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:19PM (#33005630) Homepage Journal
    Not a plug, not even linking or naming any of our books.

    Expanding your first point, you can read them on iPad, iPhone, iPod, Blackberry, MAC, and PC. I like the way they look on my iPhone better than on an actual Kindle, but I can see why most people prefer the bigger screen.

    As soon as I saw this article I cheered that the publisher of my only story is the same as these famous authors :) Need to pass this on to my friend I help with his books too.

    E-Junkie.Com provides PDF hosting. On our stuff there, has some DRM (can print I forgot how many copies, can copy and paste too) but we are aware that those measures can be sidestepped.

    Scribd.Com is a new place he has posted his free book and all of our stuff is available in paperback. They also sell eBooks in multiple formats.

    As for "no DRM", if we wanted our works out there totally free, that is the way we would do it. His second book is and it still gets Amazon and paperback sales, but lower than the others. On Scribd.Com it has been read thousands of times, lots of free downloads from

    All of the stories are priced low, most below $4, except for one that is a collection of the first four books. Kindle has a preview function and they are also on Google Books where 20% (or 30%, can't remember) can be browsed without having to buy.
  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:20PM (#33005646)
    Perhaps Amazon could be that marketing model. Between product referrals and ratings, it only takes a couple people taking a chance on a product to get you in the mix. And maybe there'd be a system added where you can rate/refer your own book and offer, say, the first 10 free on the condition they write a review and rate it. Then let Amazon ratings and suggestions take over. Want a new book? Got to Amazon and see what's recommended based on your other book purchases. Amazon may do it for free because it drives sales. And the only ones hurt are the traditional publishers.

    Though there are a lot of books that need a publisher/editor that people think are ready and just aren't. So we'll have to see if that's a good thing.
  • by Rivalz ( 1431453 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:21PM (#33005658)

    Um no I disagree they are middle men that are between us and the law. We can choose to represent ourselves if we decide thus making them middle men and not required although highly recommended and by current standards necessary.

  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mmontalvo ( 831939 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:27PM (#33005740)
    There have been multiple studies that show the majority of the cost is not the printing of the actual book but on editing, and advertisement. The printing is an average of about 10% of the cost. Take a look at [] .
  • Re:I'm not Shocked (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:33PM (#33005792)

    I met a bloke in Cambodia who made and sold illegal copies of Western books by scanning them into his computer, printing them on his printer and binding them himself. He used much better quality paper than any book (hardback or paperback) I've bought in the UK recently. And selling them for $2 each he made a profit. Which makes me think that a fully automated printing and binding process on the shittiest paper money can buy must cost considerably less than $1 per book (perhaps ignoring setup costs).

    So I'm curious. How much do offset printed books cost?

  • Re:Good! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mmontalvo ( 831939 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @02:56PM (#33006080)
    The linked page was a breakdown for the cost per book of a hardcover. There were multiple links on that article that have even more detail on the cost breakdown. As for where they get the information, most large publishers have roughly the same costs. I have had some conversations with some authors and a few small time publishers I know and their opinion is that those numbers are fairly accurate to actual costs. I do believe the articles was more in line to the average selling book and not to the big names authors. To compare Harry Potter to Granny Jem's Guide to Catholic Churches is a bit weird. Advertisement would probably be different but the overall editing costs are probably the same.
  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @03:01PM (#33006148)

    It seems that you think marketing consists only of consumer-level advertising. The B&N Unbound Blog is marketing. Their Friday giveaway is marketing.

    You could write the best book in the world, but until someone other than yourself knows about it you are not going to sell a single copy. As soon as you tell someone, you have begun marketing it. Next, it does no good at all to have thousands (millions?) of people clamoring for your book if they can't buy it anywhere. So before you have consumers wanting your book, you better convince the retailers that this is going to be a best-seller so that they can stock up on it. That is marketing (and is in fact the real heavy-duty marketing as far as books are concerned).

  • Re:A good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Joe Tie. ( 567096 ) on Friday July 23, 2010 @04:17PM (#33007202)
    Why people willingly go for locked down technologies like Kindle and iTunes, I'll never understand. Is it just because of the hype?

    Because DRM doesn't work. I have a kindle. One of the first thing I did was crack the drm on my old mobi ebooks that I had and put them on there. One of the first things I did on getting a new phone, before the kindle app was released, was to crack the drm on my kindle ebooks and toss them on there. It's not perfect yet, only about 75% of them were able to be cracked. But I consider it almost impossible that this will still be the case when I'm ready to try a new device.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak