e-book royalty battles get hotter

E-book royalties continue to be a contentious issue. Last year, the Society of Authors argued rates should increase to roughly 75-85%, while publishers have generally settled around 15-25%.  However, some authors and agents are withholding deals on e book royalties for six to 12 months in the belief that the current industry standard royalty rate of 25% could be smashed within a year.

US agent Andrew Wylie said this week he had put e-book negotiations on hold across the board because he was dissatisfied with publisher terms. Wylie told Harvard magazine that he planned to set up a company on behalf of his clients to license unallocated e-book rights “directly to someone like Google, Amazon.com or Apple.”

Amazon.com is offering a 70% royalty option for e-books sold via any of the Kindle stores or apps as long as the price is set between $2.99 and $9.99 (£2-£6.69) and at least 20% cheaper than the print edition. It must also be sold "at or below" the price being sold through the retailer's competitors.

The offer is available to both authors and publishers who use the Kindle Digital Text Platform, and is net of delivery costs. It is currently only available for books sold to customers in the US. The standard option, which offers 35% royalties, remains.

Amazon has also announced improvements in the platform, such as a more intuitive "bookshelf" feature, and a simplified two-step process for publishing.

Other agents seem to agree with Wylie.  Georgina Capel of Capel & Land believes that 50% is the right royalty rate particularly on backlist titles and is not agreeing to anything less than 25% on new titles.

Tom Holland, chairman of the Society of Authors, warned that unless publishers were seen to behave equitably, it would have “disastrous effects” on the industry. “The big hitters will go their own way, which will have an effect on publishers, which will have an effect on the new writers starting out. Publishers, authors and agents really need to sort this out for the general health of the industry,” he said.

Agents raise stakes in e-royalty battle: