Pub Rants

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

Tagged Apple

Doing The Math on Harlequin’s Move to 25% of Net Receipts but on Wholesale Model

Status: It’s official. RWA in New York has just begun. Most awkward moment today? Sitting on a panel that also had editors and being asked the question: what is a fair electronic royalty rate. Grin.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? BAILAMOS by Enrique Iglasias

Last Thursday, Harlequin sent out a press release announcing that for single title romances on their list, they would be switching to 25% of net receipts starting Jan. 1. 2012.

But before you begin celebrating that finally Harlequin is getting in line with the other major publishers, take a moment to look at the fine print or in this case, what isn’t there. What Harlequin didn’t mention in their press release is that as a Publisher, they are currently not on the agency model with their digital distributors—Apple iBookstore being the one exception.

So in short, this move to 25% of net is def. better than the paltry 6 or 8% of retail that they were offering but it’s not necessarily equal to what Publishers pay via the Agency Model.

Here’s why. Let’s do some math boy and girls.

Let’s say your single title Harlequin royalty rate is 8% of retail and the retail price for your romance novel is $7.99.

8% of 7.99 = 0.64 of royalty per sale to the author

That’s the baseline. Now let’s look at what 25% of net receipts from Harlequin looks like on the wholesale model.

$7.99 is the retail price but because Harlequin sells wholesale, they give (on average) a 50% discount to the seller. That would look like this:

7.99 – 3.99 (discount) = 4.00 of net receipts to Harlequin

25% of 4.00 = $1.00 of royalty per sale to the author

Well, that’s definitely better than 64 cents given previously!

But the whole reason why Big 5 Publishers moved to the net receipts royalty rate is because of the agency model. In this configuration, the Publisher gives 30% to the distributor and receives 70% as net receipts. So it would look like this:

30% of 7.99 = 2.39 to the distributor

Now deduct that commission:
7.99 – 2.39 = 5.60 of net receipts to publisher

If author gets 25% of net receipts on agency model, that would be:

25% net receipts of 5.60 = 1.40 of royalty per sale to the author.

Not quite the same.

Now keep in mind that the above calculations are not taking into consideration any other deductions a Publisher on Agency Model might possibly be taking before calculating the author’s share. So that is a possible factor to consider.

But in general, Harlequin’s move to 25% of net is not, on the surface, the same as what other houses are offering.

And from what I’m hearing via chat in the blogosphere, the other Harlequin royalty rate of 15% of net to series authors (which was also announced in a separate press release) is going over about as well as a lead balloon.


Why You Can’t Buy An eBook In English Outside The U.S.

STATUS: Oh, I’ve got a lot to accomplish today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR by Coldplay

A couple of weeks ago we got an email from a rather upset reader in Denmark. He wanted to buy Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS as an eBook in English for his eReader. According to this fan, he is Danish but reads most of his novels in English. He could see that it was available in the US without a problem but why couldn’t he buy it?

I imagine this fan is not the only non-US resident with this question so I’m going to tell you why he can’t buy the US English eBook version in Denmark (or wherever outside of the US). And yes, we did send a letter to this person explaining why.

It’s a sticky situation folks. As eBooks have global capacity in the English language, the reason why it may or may not be available resides in the initial rights/territories granted to the publisher when the deal was made for the print edition.

I know, not exactly what you wanted to hear when you live in Timbuktu and you just want to buy the dang eBook. Doesn’t the author and the publisher get the money?

So let me see if I can explain more clearly because trust me, it’s causing headaches for agents, for authors, and for publishers, and there is no easy fix-it solution.

If I sell Title X for North American rights only, then that means the US publisher is only allowed to sell its English version in the US, Canada, US territories (aka Philippines etc), and non-exclusive in select countries in the rest of the world (clearly listed in the contract). Print or ebook. The reason for this is that we want the ability to sell English to UK or ANZ (Australia) separately and UK/ANZ insists on certain “exclusive territories” for its print and electronic edition.

Are you starting to see the problem? If UK/ANZ hasn’t been sold, then no eBook version in English is available in let’s say Denmark because Europe is considered exclusive to UK in terms of selling the English edition.

Now, if an agent and author has granted World English or World rights to the US publisher, then there is the possibility for the US publisher to sell its English version world-wide in print or eBook. I say “possibility” as the US publisher may still want to sublicense property to UK or do a deal internally with a sister-UK/ANZ company who will want its version exclusively in certain territories.

So, it’s not just a matter of the author or US publisher giving Amazon or Apple or BN or Whoever a thumbs-up to sell away the English language eBook from their distribution channels in other countries. It all depends on the contract.

And yes, we ALL understand that with the electronic book there is now a greater global market for the English language version that needs to be exploited but with all English-speaking territories wanting to protect their exclusive sales area for their version, it’s a bit of tangle with no easy solution.

And yes, I get that avid readers may simply pirate an eCopy when the legal/legitimate one is not readily available. We aren’t stupid but the industry is not shifting fast enough to implement a quick solution.


Burning Question about Agency Commission Model

STATUS: TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BEEN CAUGHT STEALING by Jane’s Addiction

As you can imagine, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with various Contract Directors at all the major publishing houses as of late as we navigate contract negotiation.

I was in discussion with one person from a Big 6 house and we got to talking about returns with electronic books. Were they going to be allowed on the agency commission model that publishers have with entities like Apple?

According to this contracts person, the answer was yes.

So I asked what I thought was a rather pertinent question. I said, “if Apple allows returns and they’ve already deducted the 30% agency commission from the sale, how will the publisher know that the commission should have been refunded to them for the returned-sale of that title?”

Contracts person: “Good question.”

Glad I could be of some help…


Redefining Net Receipts Where eBooks Are Concerned

STATUS: Lots to tackle today so getting the blog entry out early.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE BLACKEST LILY by Corinne Bailey Rae

And the fun of how electronic books are changing the publishing contract continues. Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about net receipts in Ms. Kristin’s neighborhood.

In light of this new agency commission model where Amazon and Apple will no longer carry the product per se but have an agreement to sell titles via their site in exchange for a 30% commission on the sale (see earlier post to get up to speed), suddenly agents need to re-examine the whole definition of net receipts in publishing contracts.

The definition of net receipts (or amount received) for an electronic book is not the same as the definition of amount received for a physical book.

With the agency commission model, the biggest question is this. Will publishers deduct the 30% commission paid or will they absorb it when calculating net receipts and determining what is the total used to pay authors their 25% of net receipts? One major publisher has stated that their current thinking is that the royalty would be calculated BEFORE deducting commission. In current negotiations for contracts in play, I’m not seeing publishers as excited about redefining net receipts this way.

So what does redefining net receipts mean to the author? Let’s do a little math!

Let’s say a title will sell on Amazon or Apple’s iPad for $10.00 (might as well make it easy math).

Now let’s look at the difference between net receipts if the publisher absorbs the cost of the agency commission versus if they don’t in defining and calculating net receipts.

If Publisher absorbs commission:
eBook price: $10.00
25% of net royalty (all the rage with publishers as of late)
Royalty to author: $2.50 per title sold

If Publisher does not:
eBook price: $10.00
$7.00 received by publisher (after 30% sales commission to retailer)
25% of net royalty
Royalty to author: $1.75 per title sold

Yep, definitely worth the time to find out exactly how this term is going to be defined in the contract when it comes to electronic books.


Game Changer

STATUS: I’m not at the office late. That’s news!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by R.E.M

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should have heard the news by now. Apple had released its new tablet PC called the iPad. Think bigger, badder iTouch.

Just in case you just crawled out from under that rock, here’s a link to get you up to speed.

Most folks in the industry see the Apple announcement as a game changer—a company big enough and nimble enough to give Amazon a run for its money in terms of being the dominant player of eBooks.

As agents, the electronic rights playing field is literally shifting daily. (Ah, where did those sleepy days of just doing book deals go?)

One can imagine that The Goog will not be too far behind…

What this all means for the future is not entirely clear and I’m actually not going to speculate in this entry.

What I do want to say is this. This is the first time I’ve had to do a major shift in a negotiation literally mid-stream because of a news announcement.

In short, previously publishers have sold books to an entity like Amazon wholesale. In other words, the entity has bought a certain number of “books” in bulk at X discount. Then an entity like Amazon takes the ebooks and makes them available at a price they deem (which has been $9.99).

Apple’s announcement is changing the way publishers will be doing business moving forward. Instead of buying wholesale, Apple is saying “hey, we’ll simply be a portal for you to sell your books and we are going to ask for a 30% commission for the privilege. You get to keep the other 70% (with the main caveat that the eBook not be priced over $14.99)

On the heels of this news, Amazon announced a similar structure.

I see all of you are starting to do the math in your heads. Why should an author be stuck with a crappy 25% of net amounts received in this kind of deal?

Why do we need one lump catch-all royalty at all?

Some other random thoughts as I contemplate the massive changes publishing is going to undergo in the next five years.

1. eBooks are unreturnable. There would be no need for a publisher to hold a reserve against returns on that format. Language should be inserted in the contract addressing just that.

2. Will advances go the way of the dinosaurs? If so, what will become the main factor for choosing one “publisher” over another?

3. Will publishers finally update the royalty statement accounting periods? If eBook becomes primary format, there is no need to be 6 months behind (so as to account for returns according to publishers) in the generating of statements and the paying of royalties earned. There is no reason not to do this monthly.

And these are just a few things that immediately pop to mind…..


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