Monday, August 30, 2010

Round 1: Random House

Sorry for the Friday silence, mes auteurs, but thankfully the technical problems that canceled last week's round-up have been resolved. Onward and upward!

If you haven't heard, the Wylie Agency has lost its e-book battle with Random House, meaning that thirteen of the twenty contested e-titles are back under Random House's control. While I'm sure this has soured both Wylie and Amazon (with whom Wylie made the exclusive sales contract) on The Big House, it's an important victory for the publisher and, I think, for their authors. Also, Amazon gets to sell those e-books (via Random House) regardless, so I'm not sure how upset they really are.

What does that mean for you, gentle readers and writers?

First and foremost, it means that you need to be more aware than ever about e-rights: what your contract says about them, what your royalty rates are, under what conditions those rights can revert, &c, &c. Electronic rights are going to be immensely important over the next five years, and if you and your agent aren't on top of your game, any mistakes you make can and will come back to bite you.

Second, as I've mentioned before, I do think that electronically native imprints and sales models that more closely knit the acquisition and sales forces are the way of the future. That is to say: while Wylie went about this project the wrong way, I think their idea has merit and may represent the prevailing sales model in the next decade or two (smaller agency/house hybrids with more emphasis on e-books).

Finally, it signals (to me, at least) the necessity of editorial, computer-savvy, and legal input into the publication process, meaning that regardless of where e-books go in the next few years, you're still going to want someone on your side to edit, format, and sell your book.

What do you think, bros and she-bros?


  1. Ebooks are not driving sales yet. It's still just a lot of talk. If you're not named Koranth, your money is still coming from dead tree copies and there isn't much to quibble about. All the contracts on the books already have ebook publishing agreements built in and there's no escaping them if your still in print.

    That being said, I hope agents are making the adjustment to get value out of the ebook rights. I have to assume they are. I think authors and agents have a part to play in how the technology shapes up. The publishers have different goals that aren't necessarily toward making ebooks interoperable and available. They stand to lose too much on their bread and butter hardback sales.

    I think legislation is a way forward with epublishing as well. It's astounding to me that there hasn't been much legislative movement on electronic copyrights since the DCMA. Though I suspect that's as good a deal as the content provider is ever gonna get so why ruin a good thing. But the DCMA still is inadequate in describing what rights are assigned to whom and how they should be executed for digital texts. It'd be nice if everyone were playing by the same rules.

  2. Just when we, as writers, have tried to learn all we can about the publishing world, now we have electronic rights to worry about. Unfotunately, I think it might be a little confusing for us to understand what a "good deal" is. Getting an agent is not easy, so who's going to tell me what a good e-contract is? What does it really mean if an e-publisher wants all rights for seven years. Should I run? Should I care? We really don't have anyone looking out for us. And just because an author gets an offer from a publisher, doesn't mean we can get an agent to negotiate for us. We're hooped either way.

  3. It's not a lot of talk, really. In 2008, ebook sales made up 2% of all book sales. In 2009, they made up 5%. This year, so far, they've made up 10% and are expected to go a bit higher than that. Retail expectations are for 15 - 20% in 2011 and possibly higher. That's not talk--that's hard sales numbers from all retailers (except Amazon which refuses to release their sales figures).

    And a court ruling fell against Random House about books published prior to 2001. To quote the Author's Guild: A federal court in 2001 examined this precise matter in Random House v. Rosetta Books. Judge Stein of the Southern District of New York was unequivocal in his 10-page decision: authors did not grant publishers the e-book rights in the old book contracts at issue. Judge Stein specifically dismissed notions, raised by Mr. Dohle in his letter to agents, that the non-compete clauses of these old contracts in some manner acted to grant Random House electronic rights to the works, saying that this "reasoning turns the analysis on its head." The court pointed out that the license of rights comes solely from the contract's grant language, not from the non-compete clause, and that non-competition clauses, to be enforceable, have to be narrowly construed. Using the non-compete clause to secure future rights is unsustainable. An appellate court affirmed Judge Stein's decision.

    So if these books were contracted prior to 2001, the authors still retain the ebook rights. The only reason the Wylie Agency acquiesced was because Dohle flat out told the agency that RH would no longer even LOOK at a manuscript by any of his clients--even the big names--until the RH titles were pulled from the agreement. And that's what happened.

    The next step will be up to Wylie and Amazon and how far they want to fight it. At this point, it doesn't look like they will. But you never know.

  4. Good point. Writers have to keep up on this stuff no matter how confusing. Thanks to blogs like yours you make it easier for us!

  5. Thanks for pointing out the need for editing. Many writers are beginning to go the self-publishing route via electronic believe that passing their manuscript through their critique group is all the editing needed. However, most critique partners are also friends - and sometimes friends hold back on giving an unvarnished edit for fear of hurting feelings.

    If the new e-book publishing market can mimic the traditional, then great reads will flourish. From a writer's standpoint it's crucial to obtain a really good, well credentialed editor to polish the story.