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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Readers: you can't actually buy an ebook

Authors, be sure to read From where I sit, you can’t actually “sell” an ebook, surely one of Mike Shatzkin's most important blogs (in an excellent series). His main point: Customers are not really buying those eBooks; they're licensing them. This has important implications for authors. When I buy a physical copy of a book, I can lend it to as many people as I want; I can't do that with an eBook, which is the clear sign that I've paid for a license to read, not a book. Publishers don't make that clear (in plain English), says Shatzkin, and should.

This has important implications for publishing contracts, where royalties are paid on numbers of books sold (typically at a maximum of 15% per copy). But licensing of subsidiary rights (e.g., to book clubs) traditionally involves a 50-50 split in income, with half to the author and half to the publisher.

Read Shatzkin's whole story for the full details. This is a point the Authors Guild and other writers organizations have been making for some time. Do NOT sign a book publishing contract without understanding that if you agree to a royalty basis for payment on eBooks you are giving away the store. The publisher is assuming you will be so eager to sell you will cave, and won't notice that "detail." Notice. Understand.

For more on the subject of eBooks (one variant of the spelling!) check out:
E-book rights, developments, conflicts, and struggles for market (Writers and Editors site)
eBook Basics and Beyond (Writers and Editors site)
Most dramatic publishing event of 2010? Introducing agency pricing! (The Shatzkin Files)
The royalty math: print, wholesale model, agency model (Shatzkin again)

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