My post yesterday brought up some interesting questions and comments on various social media venues. A few that really caught my eye were asking why I wasn’t satisfied to only buy the physical book rights and leave the e-book rights alone – especially in light of the fact that some agents are keeping those rights. They wanted to know if I’d kill the deal.
The answer is yes. Absolutely. And here’s why.
Competition is hard enough as is. We compete with other publishers who publish the same kinds of books we do. We compete for the attention of millions of readers, and we compete with the ever-shrinking shelf space. So why would I compete against my own book?
We put thousands of dollars and hours into producing a book. It’s no secret that e-books are on the rise and in many cases, edging out physical books. If I only have the physical rights, then I’m competing against the e-version of a title that we edited, designed cover art, marketed, promoted, produced ARCs and sent out to all the major media and review outlets, and did print runs.
Why would I be happy to allow an e-book to ride on our coattails? When you find a book on Amazon or B&N.com, for example, the e-book is listed there as well, so all one need to is click on the link to the e-book and buy away. A sale we’ve lost, and a sale the holder of the e-book rights has gained.
So let’s say this happens often enough – that the e-book outsells the physical book – what do you think will eventually happen to the print publisher, who made it possible for you to hold your book in your hands? Well, they turn off their lights and bid you and your physical book adieu.
So while you’re thrilled to be getting your e-book royalties from whomever produced your e-book, your print publisher is struggling to remain afloat. I find the irony quite compelling because some authors want to drink from two different watering holes.
On one hand, some of you want nothing more than to see your book in physical format, but you want to keep your e-book rights. If more people are buying e-books – and that day is coming – then what do you think will happen to the publishers who made your print book possible? So long, physical book. So long book being shelved in libraries and bookstores.
Physical books will never disappear
And let’s not forget that physical books are still very much in play with media and reviewers. In the past three weeks, I’ve shot out nearly 70 books to various media who want to read the books and interview our authors. TV interviewers don’t hold up a Kindle or Nook and say, “Go to your nearest e-book site and download this book!” No, they hold up a copy of the book, flash it on the screen, and tell viewers to hit up their nearest bookstore.
That takes a print publisher. Where will your print book be if we’re slowly bled out?
Competition of another color
I’ve been told agents are negotiating to retain the e-book rights, and I’m extremely ambivalent about this due to the disturbing trend of a few agents deciding to become e-publishers. I can’t help but wonder whom they are negotiating for – themselves or their author client? I already know that we have stellar distribution with our e-books, along with marketing and promotion – elements that I’m fairly confident the agent lacks.
To date, I’ve never had an agent negotiate to retain the e-book rights. But as e-books become a bigger share of sales, I can see where this will become a bigger issue. That’s why we’ve taken steps to insure that our e-books are showcased in virtually every possible venue. So the question remains, why keep the rights when we can provide the best distribution and quality product?
I realize agents are having a tough time of things – heck, we all are – but I could no more assume the job of an agent AND maintain my own job with any efficiency. So I don’t see how agents can become publishers. The reasons I’ve heard is because agents need the income. But in order to do their clients justice, they have to hire people to take care of the e-book publication. That costs money, so I’m still seeing a disconnect that doesn’t jibe with their ability to do their primary job of selling their clients’ books and still paying the bills.
A Tale of Two Versions
As a print publisher who sinks thousands into your book, the last thing I want to see is two versions of your book on the market. Your cover will have to be different, and so will your text file. Our name goes on the spine of your book, and I don’t want to be judged on the quality of the e-book if I’m not involved with its production.
There’s no doubt that publishing is undergoing a tremendous change. I find it hideously exciting. But with change, we all have to be mindful of the consequences. Making knee-jerk decisions without considering the impact down the line will result in the very thing authors want to avoid: becoming irrelevant.
Sure, the short run thinking is that authors will make bigger royalties if they do their own e-publishing, or let their agents do it, but the end result is less money in their pocket overall because a team of dozens can accomplish far more than a team of one. We do this for a living, so we have expertise in selling books – physical or e-book.
I”m all for change, but I’m also one for ensuring that the decisions I make today will enhance my success in the future. I certainly don’t want to become irrelevant, and that’s why we have such great e-distribution. So if you or agent want to negotiate keeping your e-book rights, I hope you take the time to consider what I’ve written here because a very good print publisher may turn you down for that book deal, and you need to know why.