Speaking of e-books, I thought I'd take a moment to rehash the two primary ways they're sold: via either the agency model or the wholesale model. How does this affect you? Well, let's just say it's in the area y'all have in common with Queen Elizabeth II. That is, your royalties (/royal teas).
With jokes like these, I will be the best/most awkward dad ever.
The Agency Model
The agency model of e-book sales is the one you've heard about most recently. As opposed to the previous model (see below), the agency model assumes that the publisher is selling directly to consumers, with retailers like Amazon serving as intermediaries. Therefore, the publisher sets the the price the consumer will pay, and the retailer gets a cut for each copy sold.
For example: a publisher prices an e-book at $10.00. They sell it to consumers via an on-line retailer like Amazon, and Amazon gets a 30% cut. Each time a book is sold, Amazon gets $3.00 and the publisher gets $7.00. Those $7.00 are used to pay the publisher's overhead (everything from utilities and the purchase of new software/equipment to employee salaries and marketing budgets) and to pay you, the author.
Depending on your royalty agreement, which may range anywhere from 25% to 50% of net receipts, you'll get anywhere from $1.75 to $5.00 per book (depending on the royalty rate and the publisher's definition of net receipts). As far as I know, the going royalty rate is stuck down at around 25%, but many organizations (including the Authors Guild) are trying to increase it.
The Wholesale Model
The wholesale model of e-book sales is the method that has been used almost exclusively in the industry for the past infinity billion years and is ported directly from the world of physical book sales. In this scenario, publishers sell e-books directly to retailers, who then have the right to re-sell them to consumers for whatever price they want.
Again, let's imagine a $10.00 e-book. The publisher sells it to an on-line retailer like Amazon at roughly a 50% discount, at which point Amazon can sell it to you for whatever price strikes their fancy. Amazon could sell it for $5.00 and make no profit, they could sell it for $10.00 and make a $5.00 profit, or they could sell it for $0.99 and take a $4.01 loss.
Regardless, $5.00 flows back to the publisher to cover overhead and pay you your royalties. This time, however, there are $2.00 fewer floating around to cover those expenses, and depending on how your royalties are calculated, you'll only get between $1.25 and $2.50 (there's no question about whether the retailer's commission figures into net receipts, since under the wholesale model no such commission exists).
Granted, your royalty rates will probably come in closer to the $1.00 – $2.00 per book end of the spectrum for a $10.00 e-book, but $0.75 to $1.00 difference per book adds up quickly if you're moving a lot of units.
While I don't imagine a lot of publishers do this, it's possible for them to get into trouble if they're selling physical books via the wholesale model and e-books via the agency model. Because the publisher controls the price of one and the e-retailer controls that of the other, you can get into situations where the e-book costs more than the physical book, and in those situations consumers are (rightfully) angry.
Not that it costs $0.00 to produce an e-book, mind you, but it does cost substantially less than producing a physical book.
After hearing this and e-self-publishing success stories like that of J.A. Konrath, your first reaction may be: "Eff it, I'm putting my novels up as e-books on Amazon right now!"
Not so fast, Speed Racer. Unless you're a near-professional cover artist, e-book designer, and editor (in addition to your authorial skills), you're going to need help producing a quality e-book, and you're almost certainly going to have to price it below $9.99. Without the seal of approval of a traditional publisher—which, contrary to popular belief, is still useful social currency—you'll have a hard time selling your 150,000-word fantasy e-epic at $12.99. Especially if no one knows who you are yet.
So: while I encourage you to explore all the e-options available to you, keep these two models in mind when seeking traditional representation for our newest and least traditional format.
Tomorrow: a lesson in brand management!