Traditional Publishing is no Longer Fair or Sustainable. This was the sad but accurate headline in The Guardian this week. It followed a report on author income from the ALCS, the results of which led Nicola Solomon, head of the UK’s Society of Authors to declare:
Authors need fair remuneration if they are to keep writing and producing quality work. Publisher profits are holding up and, broadly, so are total book sales if you include ebooks, but authors are receiving less per book and less overall due mainly to the fact that they are only paid a small percentage of publishers’ net receipts on ebooks and because large advances have gone except for a handful of celebrity authors.
Publishers are doing less for what they get. There are still important things they do – a traditional publisher can edit, copy edit, design, market, promote, make your book better, deal with foreign sales. With ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share. They do not have to produce, distribute or warehouse physical copies. Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings. And, increasingly authors are being asked to do a lot of marketing and promotion themselves.
These true words come right on the heels of The Daily Mail’s piece about Hillary Clinton’s latest book. The memoir has sold well by most measures, moving 161,000 copies in the first three weeks and 86,000 in week one, but the book has dropped in the charts, and it appears Simon & Schuster will take a loss due to the $14,000,000 advance paid to Hillary.
Forteen million dollars.
By publishing math, this advance was warranted. Her previous book sold well enough for the bean counters at S&S to come up with what seemed necessary to both retain Hillary and turn a profit. But this methodology flies in the face of recent rhetoric about the role publishers play in the protection of literature and the nurturing of “the writing life.”
With that sum of money, you could pay 500 writers $28,000 to enjoy a full year of the writing life. Or you could pay 250 writers $56,000 if they don’t understand how to squeak by as a starving artist. Not only that, Hillary Clinton doesn’t need another penny for as long as she lives. She didn’t need to be supported while she wrote the book. So how exactly are publishers the patrons of the literary arts? Nicola Soloman nails the problem with the current blockbuster model of entertainment: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We shovel money at the outliers and drop everyone else. Continue Reading →