For ages now I’ve followed the debate about the level of royalties publishers offer writers when it comes to ebooks. About every six months I found myself getting VERY AGITATED about it all, usually when I come across an article that does the math, crunches the numbers, and shows, exactly, precisely, and in great detail what a LOUSY deal a 25% net royalty is for writers. The last time this happened was when I came across a blog post from the Author’s Guild in the US, ‘E-Book Royalty Math: The House Always Wins’. It happened again this morning when I came across this lengthy piece by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, ‘The Business Rusch: How Traditional Publishers are Making Money’.
A couple of weeks ago I received my first royalty statement from my US publisher; this was the first statement I’d received where I could see a volume of ebook sales set against those of hardcover sales (in the period covered, 25% of units sold were ebooks). The book, The Mistress of Nothing, sold fairly well (for me!) in hardcover and got up into the top of the escalating royalty rate for hardcovers, 15%. A hardcover copy of my novel at a 15% royalty gives me $3.31 per copy, whereas the ebook at the decent sounding, but actually lousy, royalty of 25% net, gives me $1.92 per copy. There we have it. That is the math. These figures don’t take into consideration the fact that the ebook might have reached readers who would never buy a hardcover, indeed, might have reached readers who no longer frequent bookshops and only read in digital formats. But even so, it was interesting to see the figures laid out plainly.
For several years now, publishers have been banging on about how the move to digital costs them money, how there are many extra steps added to the workload when it comes to publishing ebooks alongside bound books. But publishers are rarely transparent about these extra costs. S&S’s statement, quoted in Rusch’s article, “Strong growth in the sales of more profitable digital content was offset by lower book sales” is revealing: more profitable digital content tells writers all we need to know about actual production costs when it comes to ebooks. Looks like it’s time to get agitated, again.