Pub Rants

Foreign Publishers Getting Into The Electronic Game

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STATUS: I spent four hours on the phone doing a variety of phone conferences. Maybe I should rethink a headset.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF YOU’RE GONE by Matchbox Twenty

In this year alone, my agency has done over 20 foreign rights deals. That’s a lot for an agency of our size. After all, we only have about 30 clients.

And here’s an important facet I’m noticing. Foreign publishers are now asking for electronic rights to be included in the translation deal. No surprise given all the recent developments in the electronic field but until this year, almost no foreign publisher asked for eBook rights for a work in translation.

That’s all changing and fairly rapidly. In fact, some foreign publishers are preemptively sending addendums to add the e-rights to their agreements. Which cracks me up enormously. I don’t mind accepting but only after a significant revision of the “addendum” and a negotiation of the rate.

But here’s what you need to make note of. The royalty rates being offered by foreign publishers for eBooks is all over the place. On the higher end, it’s 25% of net receipts. The emerging standard that I don’t agree with and fight it every time seems to be 20% of net receipts. I’ve also seen as low as 10% of net offered (heck no that ain’t happening) and I’ve also seen 15% of net which is way low as well.

So you published authors need to review those foreign rights deal memos you receive (if World wasn’t granted to the Publisher because than the Publisher subrights department negotiates the foreign deals and you probably won’t see the deal memo until after the fact).

Check if eRights are included and if you’re not sure, ask your agent. And if they are included and the rate seems low, you might also want to have that convo with your agent.

9 Responses

  1. Andrew said:

    eBooks interest the hell out of me. With a slice of the financial pie somewhat dimished (though never replaced. I’ll always prefer paper to PC) What will happen. Agents take a bigger cut? More budget spent on marketting? Will prices come down?

    Then there’s the query system itself. With ebooks in prominence, will the problem of high word counts vanish? Will more writers be taken on if they have multiple projects running; or series and such. After all the digital market reduces the time and cost needed for print runs, distribution and shelf space. A 4000 page megalith could take up as much space as a 400 word kids book.

    Sad I know but the whole thing excites me.

    Pylizins: An affectionate term used between courting pylons

  2. Torsten Adair said:

    Here’s something to consider:

    The comicbook/graphic novel industry has a long tradition (1960s) of self-publishing comics. In the past, creators such as Dave Sim and Jeff Smith would publish a comicbook, sell it via the Direct Market, then collect the chapters into graphic novels and sell those via the Direct Market or mail order or at conventions.

    Currently, many creators are publishing webcomics. They update their sites periodically, maintain a community of fans, and sell books and merchandise directly to their readers. More successful sites (Wimpy Kid, Mom’s Cancer, Penny Arcade) then sign contracts with established publishers for better publicity and distribution.

    So… regarding ebooks… what’s to keep someone like Stephen King or Ally Carter or Torsten Adair from setting up a self-publishing website? Like Literotica, I could post stories for free, build up a community, then POD collections to meet demand. If successful enough, I could then ship those POD volumes to B&N and Amazon and any other site. When the business gets too big, I can then sign a deal with a publisher,

    What happens when publishers become repackagers and distributors?

    Sound crazy? Go read “Content” by Cory Doctorow. It’s free online at:
    or buy a copy (it’s a fantastic book):
    1892391813 US$14.95

    Now… what happens when ebooks become the dominant prose medium? Will royalty percentages increase as cost diminish?

    Will it be more difficult for a writer to earn-out the advance, or will the advance be smaller with a greater royalty percentage, since the book will stay in print longer, and this will encourage the author to write more and create a big backlist?

    How do the royalties and rights for paper differ from other media like ebooks, audio, and print-on-demand?

  3. aimeestates said:

    I’m with Torsten on this one, and it scares me. I want to see my books in an actual bookstore. I used a POD for family and friends (to get feedback on my first novel) and made about $300 bucks in the process. That’s some real tiny, baby red potatoes. Then again, if you get out there and market yourself, it could work to a degree.

  4. Evangeline said:

    There has been a lot of talk about foreign rights vis-a-vis e-rights–particularly how e-books are geographically bound rather than language-bound (ie. Canadian or Australian can’t purchase US-restricted book even though English is dominant language in all three countries).

    I also think foreign e-rights is a wise move because much of the books that are pirated are English works translated into other languages, since a) a foreign publisher hasn’t bought that US/UK title or b) a Japanese or German reader possibly has another year or so to wait until they receive a copy of the book in their own language (and let’s hope the books are printed on quality paper [heard scary stories about German translations of romance novels]).

    Perhaps with this move, the Kindle or the Sony Reader–or even other, competitive e-reader devices–will be sold in other countries. But in the end, there does need to be a standard, and IMO, the longer everyone hems and haws over e-rights, royalties, etc, the more likely it will be that a few discrepancies will slip through the cracks.

  5. Deb said:

    @Torsten: most epublishers don’t offer advances. That’s part of the reason our royalty percentage is so high. 30-35% is standard. I’ve even seen 40%.

    And I’m wondering why the e-rights to a print book percentage is based on net? Can’t “net” be defined in any way that benefits the publisher? I’d rather see a lower royalty percentage on “cover price” than any percentage based on net.

  6. Anonymous said:

    >>How do the royalties and rights for paper differ from other media like ebooks, audio, and print-on-demand?

    NY Pubs seem to be giving a bigger % (sometimes) but not enough IMO esp if it’s on net. What happens when ebook prices finally drop and we get that decent e-reader under 200.00 and the tides shift. I doubt print will go away for a VERY long time but I definitely think both those factors will impact print sales. In the mean time, it seems to be in most publisher’s best interest to keep e-book prices high and get royalty % for a song.