Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

That Author Ecopy Comes With A Hefty Price Tag

STATUS: Man, I powered through my To Do list today. Gosh I love when that happens.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? FREE FALLIN’ by John Mayer

One of things that we always do is make sure the author and our agency have a final copy of the finished novel in electronic form. For the author, it’s just nice to have an electronic copy of the book. I mean, we get the other editions. Why not this one? For the agency, we prefer to use the electronic copy to sell subsidiary rights when we hold those rights.

Usually, this is no big deal and the acquiring editor sends me the final page proof in PDF.

Well, just recently I made my standard request and I received a rather interesting email from the editor in return. (And let me just say right here I feel very sorry for the editor as I know she was simply citing some new company policy…) But basically the editor said that if we wanted an electronic copy in PDF, we’d have to pay a production copy fee of $250.00.

Uh… I rather stared at the email. Is the editor really suggesting that the author has to pay $250.00 for a copy of her already published book in electronic form? No, she can’t be serious.

Needless to say, I voiced my rather incredulous response in a return email.

I’m positive that the company implemented this fee policy for a good reason but in this instance, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

37 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Can you get it for free in another format? Like a word document? It seems weird but I can sort of see their logic if a squint. Most printers will accept PDFs. So I’m assuming they are equating having the PDF with having the printing plates of a book. In the olden days you had to buy those from the publisher. ($250 is fairly typical for buying the plates upon termination of a contract, right?)

    Giving you a PDF means when the contract is terminated you will have in your possession all you need to reprint the book they produced (with all their design, typesetting and whatever work)?

    But it does seem like poor business practice to make you pay for it up front. Why not just include a notice that says if you want to reproduce the PDF, you need to purchase it?

  2. Anonymous said:

    A cheaper way to deal with this is to buy the e-copy and then crack the DRM.

    Which is technically illegal, but really, are they going to smack the author down for cracking the DRM on her own darned book?

  3. Laura said:

    I can’t wrap my head around this, no matter how hard I try. I mean, the author can use his or her copy of the manuscript to make their own PDF — for the publishing company to provide the manuscript in PDF form is a kindness, almost a gift.

    The author (or one of the author’s friends) is perfectly capable of making a PDF manuscript. However, if the publishing company provides one, it’s bound to be more professional looking and it relieves the author of excess work.

    To suddenly stop providing ready-made PDF’s for the authors (unless they receive a hefty payment) seems to be . . . well, insulting and ridiculous.

    I can’t think of any logical chain of thought that would lead the publishing company to think this is a good move.

  4. Sharon K. Mayhew said:

    Sometimes corporations do things that don’t make sense. Did you know that Walmart will no longer have recycling bins in their parking lots. They are one of the biggest sellers of packaged products in the world, but for some reason don’t want to take responsibility for all the packaging materials. (I’m really sorry about going off, but just like an author fee for your own book doesn’t make sense, this doesn’t make sense to me.)

  5. Some Screaming Fangirl said:

    A complete rip-off! Isn’t the author supposed to actually get a discount on their book? Hope your incredulous response solves things and the author gets, you know, what THEY wrote!

  6. Joseph L. Selby said:

    Wow, that policy will last all of 0 seconds. Someone thought they had a bright idea. Those people are supposed to know they’re not allowed to have bright ideas.

    To anonymous number 1, no, that’s not a concern. Production works with PDFs all the time. We prefer to send PDFs to the author for review rather than printed pages. It’s faster (ftp vs. mail), more accurate (handwriting vs. typed comments), and cheaper (ftp vs mail, printing costs). Not only does the house have the finished PDFs, they have many iterations from stages along the way.

    I don’t know the house you were dealing with, Kristin, so I can’t offer specific insight. The only way I can think of this being a legitimate claim is if they’re an end-to-end Quark publisher, meaning they don’t typeset in InDesign and they work with composed pages fully in Quark (or on paper). In that case, the house would have to go back and request the compositor to provide PDFs. $250 is an accurate cost the compositor would charge. The house is then passing that cost onto you.

    Working end-to-end in quark scares the hell out of me for copyediting purposes, but if it’s a small house, I can see it happening.

  7. Josin L. McQuein said:

    That’s just stupid. Even the most notorious of vanity pressed don’t charge $250 for a PDF file.

    What do they think the author’s going to do? Make copies and hand them out for free?

  8. nymfaux said:

    Definitely want to hear how this turns out–It seems obvious that a person should get a copy of ALL versions of THEIR work–And if the editor and company are worried about you going somewhere else with your electronic rights, then they should make a better offer–not hold the product hostage!!!!

  9. Anonymous said:

    Yet another instance of taking “Make a buck however possible” to ridiculous lengths. Let’s hope that this gets laughed out of existence as quickly as possible.

  10. terripatrick said:

    Publishers make money because authors provide the content for books and now the publisher is charging the author for a PDF?

    WTF? This is just wrong.

  11. Cecelia Dowdy said:

    This is terrible! I’ve never heard of this before! Did the author have to review the galleys before the book went to press? In what format were the galleys printed? All of my edits, revisions and galleys are electronic, and when I review the galley, right before it goes to press, the book is in PDF format already.

  12. Kelly Freestone said:

    On your status: Great job! Working through a to-do list feels wonderful!

    On the rest: (prepare for rant)
    This is ridiculous.
    As if it wasn’t hard enough…
    This writing thing HAS to be a passion if you’re going to stand up straight…
    thanks to you and Rachelle, though, I’ve learned a whole lot about this business I never would have otherwise.
    But one thing’s for sure…people are still out to make money.
    It’s kind of ironic that we writers can hardly write for the money, and yet people suck it out of us anyway. (sigh)
    Sorry…rant complete.
    Thanks for helping us, girl.
    HAve a good one.

  13. Kelly Freestone said:

    You know, being in a business that’s changing daily, I can understand asking money for compensation to your own that what this is?

    Is there another way to get a copy?

  14. Pepper Smith said:

    Yeah, if it’s a company that doesn’t work in pdf to start with, I can see where they might feel justified asking you to pay the conversion charges. But pdf is such a standard anymore, it is a little scary if they don’t already use it.

  15. behlerblog said:

    Seeing that I do this sort of thing all the time with my own authors, I’m really shocked all editors don’t send out the final file as normal practice. We send a final pdf to our authors and their agents before we go to final print run – regardless of who has the foreign rights. It’s simply good business.

    I’ll now wander aimlessly about, scratching my head…new profit center? shudder

  16. Karen Adair said:

    I love the heads up from Kristen, but I also loved the varied responses from the commenters. It’s interesting to see that some actually have found valid reasons for why this company might feel justified in charging a fee for the pdf. It’ll be interesting to see their reasoning and what comes of it. I hope at least we find out so that we can learn from all this. Thanks to everyone for such insights.

  17. Mike Martinez said:

    Sweet Jebus!

    One thing that strikes me in all this: doesn’t the author generally retain copyright?? I just pulled a heap of books from my shelf and checked the copyrights. Unless it’s part of a series owned by someone else, say Star Wars or something, the author keeps the copyright.

    So this is a work that you’ve copyrighted as an author, and that you’ve allowed, in essence, the publisher to print and distribute. I mean, that’s the legal argument. We know it’s not quite like that in reality. 😉 But it’s still the author’s copyrighted work.

    Man, I’d be furious. And especially when you want to use the PDF to shop around subsidiary rights? Wouldn’t that actually HELP the publisher by making the book more popular?

    *facepalm* Oy vey, everybody.

  18. Joseph L. Selby said:

    Incidentally, Kristin, if they stand firm on the $250 for PDFs, tell them you’ll happily accept the typesetting files instead. I’m certain one of your blog readers would be willing to convert Quark or InDesign files for you at no charge. We’re good people.

  19. Giles Hash said:

    I’m not quite sure how this works, so correct me if I’m wrong. But doesn’t the author still, technically, own the book? I mean, the publishers will eventually be paying the author for the book (and that’s what the advance is – a payment for that book). My understanding may (probably is) wrong, but I always thought the publishers only rented the publishing rights from the author who retains copyrights…so why such a hefty price? It doesn’t take THAT long to convert a document into a PDF.

  20. ray said:

    Sounds like an addition to contracts is needed regarding the publisher providing PDFs of the final book at no cost. Stick it to em’!

    While a PDF of the manuscript can be made with a newer version of Word, I assume that the PDF you want reflects the look and feel of the typeset book.

    Truth be known, if you know the font, font size, and leading used in the body of the text, a little skill with Word can produce something that looks like the typeset version. I used Word to design my two books, “Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells” and “The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles.” For both, I provided a PDF for the printer, and they look terrific.

  21. Jeff said:

    That makes no sense from a production perspective unless they’re using an odd process, such as Joseph Selby described in one of the above comments. Otherwise PDF output is a simple part of book design production espcially if they’re using InDesign, which is what most places use these days. But it could be possible that they’ve stuck with an older workflow. If not, then it’s some corporate suit that made a stupid policy change.

  22. Sherryl said:

    $200 is what my publisher charged me for the digital files of a book of mine that went out of print (I wanted to republish it myself and told them that). It was a fair deal for what I wanted.
    But no author is going to do that with a brand new book, are they? So the publisher has just created some bad feeling for no good reason.
    There are websites now that will convert your book to an e-book for free. Seems a little paranoid for them to charge like that.

  23. Joseph L. Selby said:

    @Sherryl: An ebook and a final PDF are very different (unless you’re referring to a PDF ebook which is unfortunately still used by some in the business who are having trouble keeping pace with the advancement of digital publishing). The ebook is xml and it’s easy to make because all the work is done up front. The ebook maker creates an ingestion process (DTD or similar method) to recognize standard features of your manuscript: body text, chapter name, chapter number. That ingestion then tags your document and spits out final xml that your hardware (phone, ereader) can read.

    PDFs to printer have been typeset and incur a cost each time they are created. (Ebooks incur a cost too, but this is mostly an artificial representation of time to ingest and the time/work to build the initial process.) Asking for an ebook and asking for a PDF is different, as are the costs associated with each.

  24. Allison Rushby said:

    Wow, $250! I just paid $50 per copy for mine with one of my publishers. I wasn’t exactly happy (I’ve received them for free in the past). Now $50 looks like a good deal!

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