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Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

The rise of self publishing hasn’t just affected traditional print publishers. In fact, with the rate of ebook adoption slowing many observers suggest the numbers indicate we’re reaching a plateau. One of the less publicized victims of the sea changes occurring in publishing is the digital first publisher.

While reports of financial instability has plagued Ellora’s Cave, one of the oldest digital publishers around, for years recent rumors place Samhain squarely in the spotlight as well. Long time readers of Dear Author are familiar with the rise and fall of digital publishers back in the mid to late 2000s. It seemed that everyone with a passing knowledge of a WordPress template felt comfortable setting up shop.

Through it all Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have endured.

Recent reports from authors, however, suggest that both companies are struggling. Ellora’s Cave is undergoing several months of non payment of royalties stemming back to October 2013.

In response to the late payments, the owner of Ellora’s Cave sent out a group email in February explaining that royalties were late because a new program had been installed but the software program needed fixing resulting in the EC staff having to calculate royalties by hand.

Ellora’s Cave is supposed to pay monthly but even after this email went out, several authors report still not receiving their royalty payments or receiving lower than normal royalty payments. Purportedly Ellora’s Cave is hoping that the signing of celebrity authors like Farrah Abraham of Teen Mom and the James Deen sex tape is going to save their ship.

"CONTRACT" Tag Cloud Globe (agreement signature law legal form)

Samhain doesn’t have money problems. From all accounts, the company is still flush but experiencing some downturn in sales. No, the complaints about Samhain have to do with author contacts and contract terms. These more restrictive terms seem inspired to keep more rights within the company.

There are the general complaints that Samhain is slow to respond to any inquiries. But more disconcerting for authors is the change in several policies.

It used to be that obtaining a reversion of rights was fairly simple. Any author could request a reversion of rights after seven years. Combined with robust royalties of 30% off the retail and 40% off sales direct from the publisher, Samhain was viewed as one of the best and most author friendly contracts around.

Tides are turning. Currently Samhain is being non responsive to reversion letters. Samhain, in response to an inquiry, simply says that it is being thoughtful in the way that the requests are being processed.

A new contract clause is being inserted. The boiler plate language is Metadata with respect to the Work shall be considered work made for hire to the Publisher and Publisher shall own all rights to such metadata.”

According to the IDPF (Independent Digital Publishing Forum) who sets epub standards, metadata includes all of the following:

2.2.1: <title> </title>
2.2.2: <creator> </creator>
2.2.3: <subject> </subject>
2.2.4: <description> </description>
2.2.5: <publisher> </publisher>
2.2.6: <contributor> </contributor>
2.2.7: <date> </date>
2.2.8: <type> </type>
2.2.9: <format> </format>
2.2.10: <identifier> </identifier>
2.2.11: <source> </source>
2.2.12: <language> </language>
2.2.13: <relation> </relation>
2.2.14: <coverage> </coverage>
2.2.15: <rights> </rights>

When pressed, Samhain clarified that it wanted only to keep tagline, cover copy and sales hook. Unfortunately when the modified contract came back, it still included the above language allowing Samhain broad rights over the metadata and some authors are concerned that the lack of specificity could cover author pen names (creator/contributor) or the type of format (epub/kindle/pdf) and so on. Samhain asserts that this clause is negotiable, but the clause as written is very broad.

Because reversion of rights is becoming so important, these metadata clauses need to be worked out. It’s understandable for a publisher to want to seek to protect its own work but using the overly broad term “metadata” without an exhaustive list of what that term includes may very well endanger authors.

Perhaps the final straw for some authors was that when the reversion was requested, a new contract was sent to the authors that would bind them to additional terms along with the original contract signed.  Samhain asserts that this language could be negotiated as it was the result of an overzealous attorney designed to protect Samhain’s rights. However, a reversion of rights is a contractual right. A request to get the right to that work returned to the author should not be met with new contract demands (unless there is more money involved).

Nonetheless, the changes appear overreaching. There are already exchanges between authors on private loops warning others away from these two big digital publishers because of lack of payment, slow payment, slow response, poor contract terms, and reduced sales.

Self publishing and even new digital publishers are hammering away at the base of older and established digital publishers as more and more authors are determined to forge their own path. It’s unsurprising that there are both financial troubles and contractual issues arising out of this.

Using ePub Split to create individual books from your collection of box sets

Using ePub Split to create individual books from your collection of...

The 99c price tag for these epic box sets of 8, 10, and 14 sets of novels is awesome. However, reading them on a digital device is suboptimal. You don’t get a very good idea of where you are in the novel based on page count or percentage or locations. Further, it’s hard to catalog these books since there are multiple authors for the box set.

I mentioned on Twitter that I’d love an easy way to break these box sets up and Mikaela Lind recommended I check out the Calibre plugin called ePubSplit.  Essentially, the plugin does exactly what the name implies. It takes an existing ePub and can create other ePubs based on the current contents.

To begin you’ll need Calibre + the ePubSplit plugin. You can read how to install a plugin here.

Ready? Let’s begin.

1. Start with an ePub (hence the name “ePubSplit”).  If you want to work with your Kindle purchases, then  you’ll need to convert to ePub. Simply highlight the book in Calibre and press “convert” and choose “epub.”

2. Get familiar with the structure of the Box Set. Highlight the box set and click on the ePubSplit icon.  If formatted correctly, the Table of Contents of the ePub will guide what sections you will need to select in order to create a new book. In Epic Love, the first story Off Chance starts with part008.html and ends with part0042.html.  You can double check this by right clicking and selecting “Edit Ebook”. This will allow you to preview each section.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 18.54.42


But what if your book looks like this? Then use the “Edit Book” to check out what those unnamed files mean.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.58.06


Edit Book has a Preview Pane that allows you to see what those extra files contain. Using Edit Book I see that file _022.html is the end of Lexi Blake’s book and _023.html is the start of the Olivia Cunning book.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 16.18.08

Use the Edit Book Preview Pane to guide where you should start and stop your section selections. Using the Preview Pane, I know that the first book by Lexi Blake starts at 002.html and ends at 022.html.

If you open the “Edit Book” function and then press on the ePub Split button, you can have both windows open at the same time and toggle back and forth. If you open the ePub Split window first, it doesn’t allow you to open any other windows.

3. Highlight the sections. Highlight by shift clicking from part008.html to part0042.html. Shift clicking is highlighting the first file and then holding down the shift key and then clicking on end file. If you’ve done this right, part008.html to part0042.html should be highlighted.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.33.20

4. Click New Book button. Once all the pertinent parts of the new book are highlighted, press the “New Book” button. You will get a warning dialog box which you can choose to ignore in the future by unchecking the box next to “Show this warning again.”

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.33.56

5. New Metadata. The Calibre metadata box pops up. Here’s where you change the title, author, add a new cover and even a new back cover description. I just add the title and author and let Calibre fetch me the rest of the information. If you forget the title or author, on the bigger box sets you can use the cover image as a guide. Just note that the books on the box set cover might be in a different order than how they appear in the file.

You cannot skip this step.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.39.25

Once you’ve added the metadata, you’re done. You have a separate new ePub. That’s it! Continue steps 3-5 to create the rest of your ePubs from the box set. If you want you can delete the box set or you can keep it for your records.

Table of Contents. You don’t have to do this step but when you create the ePub from EpubSplit, it does not create a table of contents. Calibre has some built in tools to help with this. Highlight the book you want to create a new TOC. Right click and choose “Edit Book”. Click on the little “T” button:

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 1.38.38 PM

This is the Table of Contents button.  Here you can generate the TOC a number of different ways. If formatted correctly, the easiest thing to do is select either “Generate ToC from major headings” or “Generate ToC from files”.


Once the TOC is generated, press save. You can also create a TOC when you convert. Simply highlight the ePub and then click “convert books”.

Look for “Table of Contents” on the left hand side and click the box next to “Force use of auto-generated Table of Contents”.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.53.35

My recommendation is to do one and if it works, then highlight all of them and do a bulk convert back to Mobi. If you prefer ePub, just convert to ePub and it will make a new ePub with the TOC.

Another way to do this is to use Sigil. Open the ePub in Sigil. Under “Tools” select “Generate Table of Contents”. It will then create a Table of Contents. Magical, right? Simply save and your newly saved ePub folder will have the TOC.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.50.59


You can check to see if the TOC created properly by going to “view” in Calibre. When the E-book Viewer opens, click on the three blue lines (that’s the icon for TOC).  Then…look. :) Not bad.

Screenshot 2014-04-12 15.51.34

Now you’ve got a complete book or novella extracted from the box set making it easier to read and keep track of.  Let me know if you have any questions or need more screenshots.