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REVIEW: Why Harlequin Authors Should Move to E Publishing

In this month’s RWR (publication by RWA for RWA members), there was a feature about Harlequin ebook royalty rates. Apparently, RWA on behalf of the authors have been asking Harlequin to increase their royalty rates. Last fall, the Smart Bitches asked about e-book royalty rates quoting an anonymous source pointing to the ebook royalties being 6% which is the same as print royalties. This was confirmed more or less by Karen Templeton in her blog post in November. I did ask an anonymous source for confirmation and this is what is reported:

Electronic Editions

For the purpose of electronic editions, Cover Price is the suggested regular e-book price in each of the specific markets set out in subparagraphs xxx through xxx below:

(x) On copies of English language electronic editions of Publisher or its Related Licensees sold in North America:

. on the first 100,000 copies of each such edition, six percent (6%) of the Cover Price;
. on the next 100,000 copies of each such edition, seven percent (7%) of the Cover Price;
. on the next 100,000 copies of each such edition, eight percent (8%) of the Cover Price;
. on the next 100,000 copies of each such edition, nine percent (9%) of the Cover Price;
. on all such copies of each such edition thereafter, ten percent (10%) of the Cover Price;

(x) On copies of English language electronic editions of Publisher or its Related Licensees: four percent (4%) of the Cover Price in any country outside of North America.

(x) On copies sold of non-English language electronic editions of Publisher or its Related Licensees: two percent (2%) of Cover Price in any country.

Harlequin’s reasoning for its low ebook royalty rate is due to its current unprofitable state. A significant investment has been made to market the ebooks and the ebook program. This has to be the majority of the reason why Harlequin’s ebook division is not currently making money. After all, all the expense of editing, cover, and advances were paid out for the paper copy. There is little cost in transforming that electronic file into an ebook and maintaining it. Assuming the overhead costs of an ebook are $200, then Harlequin needs only sell 60 ebooks to break even. 60. Every book sold after that is found money.

The problem with this model is not just that it is inequitable but that it requires the author to be a capital investor in a venture from which she will not see any benefit. Essentially, Harlequin is asking authors to take a lower rate now so that it can recoup its technology investment. While it says that “Once eBooks becomes a profitable business Harlequin will re-evaluate the eBook royalty rates we are offering vis-a-vis that of competitive publishers” what motivation with Harlequin have to revise and pay a higher rate? It’s not in the contract. The contract has a flat rate and there is no provision for re-negotiation based upon the profitability of the ebook venture.

This financial plan shifts the risk from Harlequin by having the authors pay now but reaping no benefits in the future. If Harlequin decided to invest in inhouse printing and that investment cost millions of dollars, setting back the profitability of its company for two years, would it be able to reduce the paperback royalty rates of authors until such time as it became profitable again? I can see this being an acceptable situation if Harlequin would include a term in the contract which reflected increasing ebook royalty rates based upon net profits/gross earnings or some type of increase commensurate with earnings.

At the low royalty rate, Harlequin builds its eBook business. Once it does become profitable, who benefits? Only Harlequin. The author continues to earn 6% on each sale. What impetus will Harlequin have to change the existing contracts and offer a higher ebook royalty rate? How is it fair that authors who come in two or three years from now when Harlequin’s ebook venture is profitable will benefit from the program built upon the backs of authors that come before? Essentially the current authors are subsidizing the ebook venture, regardless of whether of their desires.

So what is an author to do? They have no bargaining power. If they want to write a category length novel there is only one publisher for that. Or is there? Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to Brenda Hiatt’s website, the average earn out of a Harlequin Temptation is $13,700.00. The earn out, as I understand it, represents the total royalties earned on a particular book, including the advance which is just a prepayment on royalties.

In order to make $13,700.00 on a book that retails for $5.99 (authors earn their royalty off the retail price, not any discounted price), the author must sell 38,119 copies at a 6% royalty rate:

  • 5.99*.06 = .36 cents royalty earned per book. 13,700/.36 = 38,119 copies of books.

Take same author and give her book to Ellora’s Cave. At a 5.99 per book, the same author with the same book need only sell 6,099 copies to earn the same amount of money and this does not include any paper sales she may make if EC chooses to sell the book in print format.

  • 5.99*.375 = 2.25 royalty earned per book. 13,700/2.25 = 6099 copies of books.

The time may not be ripe for such a shift. Karen Templeton’s ebook royalty statement indicated about 46 units sold. In the coming years, as ebook sales grow exponentially, will Harlequin become irrelevant? It is estimated that Sony sold at least 10,000 readers in August/September. Why not pay an independent editor to edit your book, invest $2000 in marketing for yourself and sell the book yourself or through the Sony Connect Store for $200. Or even to Samhain or Ellora’s Cave. Will Harlequin still be a player in a few years with its inequitable contracts or is its investment in ebook technology built on the sales of current authors be its saving grace? And if so, what will Harlequin do to repay them?

Anonymous commenters are welcome.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

65 Comments

  1. Karen Scott
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 06:20:20

    I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this, it’s not as if Harlequin have ever been quick to embrace change is it?

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  2. Jayne
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 08:01:30

    (x) On copies of English language electronic editions of Publisher or its Related Licensees: four percent (4%) of the Cover Price in any country outside of North America.

    Is this why ebooks aren’t readily available outside of the US/Canada? I’ve seen various people worldwide comment that they can’t buy ebooks now. That sucks.

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  3. Christine Rimmer
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 12:22:01

    The Harlequin/Silhouette ebook rate is an ongoing battle. Some of us who write for HS make a point to try to change the ebook rate with every contract we sign. When we can’t get them to budge, we write a protest letter concerning these egregious rates and send it in with the contract. Just about all of our author advocacy groups, RWA among them as you note, have taken on this issue with HS. So far, no change.

    Often, we do get change over time just through the water-dripping-on-stone technique of coming at them calmly and relentlessly every opportunity we get on any given issue. But on this issue…well, I don’t think HS is going to change until they have to. At this point, they just…don’t have to.

    But it is interesting that more and more authors are becoming masters at self-promotion; authors are taking the reins of their careers in a big way. Maybe the eventual outcome *is* for us to be our own e-publishers, that the time will come when the publisher is the middle man we can do without. This probably won’t happen in my own writing lifetime, but I see it as a definite possibility farther along the line.

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  4. JulieLeto
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 12:54:17

    I’m with Christine. Every contract, my agent fights for a change, knowing it won’t happen…but maybe eventually, like the pseudonym issue, which I did fight in earnest when I first published (and won that one…two years before the battle became moot.) Authors are paying attention, but right now, I’m more interested in reaching tens of thousands of readers that I reach in print than I am in reaching 6000 readers and making the same amount of money. (FYI, Temptations never sold for more than a $4.25 cover price, if memory serves. Blazes sell for $4.75 currently…which means we have to sell more than the number you guesstimated.)

    Great topic. I hope someone sends the link to Isabel Swift.

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  5. Maeve Beckham
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 13:47:37

    You are absolutely correct. The risk of moving into a new market should not be passed on to the author. Assuming that risk is successful, Harlequin will receive a healthy return on that investment later on thanks to ebook sales. Will the authors be given an equity position in Harlequin in return for the below market royalty rates they accepted earlier on? I think not.

    As a rule, authors should either demand market royalty rates for epublishing or not sign away their epublishing rights at all. It’s not like this scenario is uncommon in publishing, as hardback and paperback rights go to different companies all the time.

    Of course, your agent may tell you that Harlequin will play hardball and not accept your novel at all unless you also give up your epublishing rights at their reduced royalty rates. Then the choice is up to you: Go to a different publisher or cave in. This is where having a powerful agent or agency can really help. If an agency goes to Harlequin and says, “Sorry, you either improve the epublishing royalty rate or all of our authors are walking their next books somewhere else” then things will change.

    One of the keys to this is that the cover price is the same. In the recording industry, the royalty rates are roughly similar between physical CDs and digital tracks, but that makes at least some sense because the unit prices are so radically different. Recording artists generally get around 15 cents per track sold (at $1/track retail), while they get around $2 per physical CD sold in record stores. Assuming a 12 track CD, the royalty comparison is $1.80 for the digital track and $2 for the physical CD.

    Personally, I believe that writers and recording artists are getting screwed in digital sales because in the long run the distribution costs for the companies will be so dramatically lower. I don’t think that is going to be anywhere more evident than the publishing industry unless something changes soon.

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  6. Karen Templeton
    Dec 31, 2006 @ 19:13:23

    Some clarifications (since you were referring to my blog post :)): First off, the earnout on our books includes more than NA sales, and are at different rates — foreign and direct [bookclub] rates are less, but can add several thousand extra dollars to each book’s earnout. Just FYI. And the highest price Har category book is $5.25. Temptations (which no longer exist) were, I believe, around $4.50. Still, some lines DO regularly sell as much as 50K (or more) copies at NA retail — important numbers if you want to move to a larger publisher for a bigger advance. I hear what you’re saying about needing fewer sales to earn the same amount at a higher royalty rate, but print publishers only care about numbers of units sold, not earnout. So something to think about.

    Second, I’ve heard various e-pub authors comment on their earnouts per book — generally FAR less than even an average Har title. A Har author will never, ever make less than $3000 per book — a lowball, first-timer advance. My first, lowest earning books still made nearly twice that, and that was with a dying line with virtually no distribution. I also thought it was telling that, even though my first ebook release was very widely available in every e-bookstore out there, it still sold only a handful of books. My second e-book is out now, won’t know how that did until next royalty statement, but I’m not holding my breath.

    While there may indeed be a few e-published authors who are making nice incomes, I’m gathering that’s because they write an extraordinary number of titles per year. Most authors simply can’t produce that quickly.

    Third, thus far the self-publishing model simply doesn’t work for 99.9 percent of writers who choose that route. At least when you sell to a standard publisher (whether print or e-book), they do bear all the expenses, except for whatever promo the author chooses to do. Hire my own editor? Pay to have my own work encrypted? Then HOPE to somehow, on my own, make some sort of impact in a field already flooded with tens of thousands of new titles every year? I don’t think so.

    Also, Har already prints in-house (in Toronto), and has for a long time.

    Obviously, I agree that the six percent e-rate is an issue that still needs to be addressed, for many reasons. But until this author sees proof that she’d earn at least as much from an e-book sale (or sale to a small or e-book publisher) as I currently do with Harlequin, the benefits of writing for them — or most print publishers — still outweigh the drawbacks. At least I know the books are going to be out there, in the face of any reader who goes into a Wal-Mart, grocery store or Waldenbooks.

    For ten years, I’ve been hearing that the e-book revolution is “right around the corner,” but frankly, I haven’t seen it yet. I’m not saying it won’t happen — and if the time comes when readers are more likely to download a book than toss one in their cart as they sail through the grocery store — then I’ll be there, too. But switch from Har to e-publishing, as things stand now?

    Why would I do that?

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  7. JulieLeto
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 09:01:29

    Yeah, what Karen said. Threatening to “walk” isn’t the only way to convince Harlequin to change a policy…the pseudonym issue is a prime example. Authors worked within the system in order to have that changed…I know, because I’m one of the authors who put her contract on the line to fight it. Was I willing to walk away? No! It was my first sale. But that didn’t make my fight any less successful, since I was able to use my maiden name and won the right to control it…all a moot point two years later when they dropped the issue from the contract entirely after years and years of authors battling with them.

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  8. Sybil
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 09:39:27

    Sounds like harl is screwing the whole e thing up all the way around.

    There is the simple fact they are charging too much for their ebooks. They don’t do all their ebooks (which leads me to question are a lot of authors keeping their erights). Then there is the important to me thing, which I would guess could be to others as well, they have no ebookwise format (they do have lit).

    When I was last there looking for books I would have soooo bought Lacy if it had been priced right. I could have bought their ebook for $ 11.30 or their print book for 11.16.

    Instead I went to Samhain and bought: In the Spirit by Shannon Stacey, Midnight Temptation by Dee Tenorio and Project: Man by Alexis Fleming. I spent 12.95 for 3 vs 11.30 for one book. Yes Lacy is a tradesize novel but that means nothing to me as an ereader. And there is the fact it is a reprint of an old book. There are quite a few older books from popular authors such as Linda Lael Miller, Jennifer Cruise and Catherine Coulter.

    I wonder if they got the same deal? And don’t even get me started on finding things there. The whole lay out isn’t down well. Another thing I have to give to Samhain it is easy to find what you are looking for. HOW hard would it be to have Desires labeled DESIRES. SSE labeled SSE not some in contemp and some in Home and Family.

    I didn’t even know I could get Karen’s Baby Steps in Ebook until after I bought it at walmart. And I can bet when I go today (shouldn’t they be sending out a coupon for news years!) I will be able to order: Blackmailed into Bed by Heidi Betts, Bound by Marriage by Nalini Singh and The Lawman’s Bride by Cheryl St John today but not the ebook.

    Why don’t they take advantage of the month early thing for ebooks? I would be willing to spend the extra money to get it early from Harl and get it NOW then wait for them to show up at Wal-Mart.

    Does that mean I think Harl writers should jump to samhain? No not really… I mean hell Harl has a sweet deal going on with their bookclub (although I find it shitty authors get lower royalties on those) and the simple fact they are in Wal-Mart.

    But they are perfect to be making the most of the ebook sales and could recoup their cost in better ways then screwing their authors and readers. Setting something up to fail and then standing back and going gosh this just isn’t working for us seems dumb.

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  9. Karen Templeton
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 11:09:19

    Of course, I didn’t notice the comments off to the side until AFTER I posted yesterday (damn holiday brain rot), so some other posters had already touched on what I said.

    But a couple more comments, now that I’m actually part of the discussion (!):

    I agree, eHarlequin is very strange to navigate. I couldn’t find BABY STEPS in ebook either, unless I searched under my name. I only happened to stumble across it when one of the “hosties” mentioned it in a list of new ebooks coming out. And yes, I think the ebook edition should be available the same time as the print version.

    I think they’re still experimenting with the whole e-book thing, which is why not all the titles have been converted. Only two of mine have, out of around twenty published so far. And no one’s (with the possible exception of the occasional Big Name) keeping their e-book rights — that’s part of the boilerplate contract. Har is very, very proprietary about the rights to any book they publish, and it would be the rare author (certainly no one I know) who’d be able to retain any specific rights.

    As for threatening to walk — nice idea in theory, but since Har’s the only print category publisher around, there really IS no COMPARABLE place to take a short books, no other venue that will expose its authors to nearly as large market. And Har knows this, which is why they can get away with a lot of what they do. As Christine and Julie said, though, the chipping away at the stone thing has worked in the past, although anything that might impact them money-wise is going to take a lot more chipping!

    I’m by no means a rah-rah Harlequin fangirl — I’ve got my own issues with them, just as everyone else does. But I’m also a realist. As a whole, this is not an industry known for being kind to the very people who make money for it. I’m not interested in spending three months on a book that’s going to only make a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars. Nor am I keen to go to a publisher who’s only going to give me one or two shots on “making it,” cancelling my contract before readers have a chance to find me. So in an imperfect world, Harlequin starts to look not quite so bad.

    Not perfect, mind you, but believe me — it could be worse.

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  10. Jane
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 11:35:33

    I definitely don’t think that the time is ripe for leaving a publisher as harlequin but I think that the near future might be somewhat different.

    I think the author comments are quite illuminating in that there are trade offs besides the money that authors are looking for when publishing with HQN, particularly in terms of audience and publishing security.

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  11. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 11:40:03

    There are a lot of Ebook authors that make a very good lving by anyone’s standards off their ebook sales. I’m one of them. I recently sold a very gritty very romantic Western Historical series to SPICE. I’m thrilled with this sale, because I really love the series and think it has the same magic of my Promise series and all it needed was a home. I’ve been warned, however, even if my Hell’s Eight series turns out to be as popular as my Promise Series, not to expect an equivalent financial success due to a variety of things all having to do with percentages, accounting, distribution, and a whole lot of other things I can’t quite grasp that are part of the NY experience.

    I admit I’m kind of curious about that. And doubtful. Since both series are third person Western historical, both are erotic, both are 120K+ big romances with the full HEA, I’m in a position to compare apples to apples. Granted, I’ll have to wait a couple years for the SPICE book statements since Caine’s Reckoning doesn’t release until 11/07, but I’m curious as to whether my ebook sales for it will be low, the same as for my Promise series, higher, etc. I’m also curious if Hell’s Eight will have to struggle for acceptance and then take off like the Promise series did, or will the fact it’s being released by SPICE give it a boost Promsies Linger had to wait six months to get? (you note I’m not contemplating that it will flop. ;- )

    One of the beauties of epublsihing is that if you write in a genre that needs a bit of a boost to get past preconceptions, you have the time to make it happen and for word of mouth to build. It took the first Promise book six months to break through that barrier in the paranormal dominated epub world, but when it happened, the series just took off in popularity with readers of all genres. And its readership continues to grow two years post release. An opportunity my Hell’s Eight books won’t get. So I guess that will be another thing I’ll have to try and factor in when the time comes to compare differences. *tapping fingers on desk* I hate waiting.

    I did have a point. These days there are so many opportunities in the market place for authors, and so many different ways to play those opportunities, rather than going the old fashioned route and waiting for a publisher to give up something they really don’t have a reason to, authors can just go out and make the existing forces in the market work for them.

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  12. Ursula
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 14:15:58

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only person scratching my head after reading RWR and Harlequin’s approach to E Royalties. I think it boils down to the fact that traditional publishers are slow to react to the future, and there is a communication evolution underway that is impacting everyone. Some like Baen have the vision necessary to see the wave, catch it, crest it and ride it home to shore. Others can see it and are trying to figure out how to shove it into the current narrow channel model.

    After reading the little article, I thought to myself that in many ways, the old category market when there were multiple publishers, was similar to what the e market is now as far as entry point for new authors. The new category market is failry limited to the one publishing house, and while it has showcase aspects in print, it is behind the curve in the electronic arena, an arena that has a daily growing attendance. Maybe it’s not recognized yet as a true force in publishing, yet, how much analysis is really devoted to it at this point?

    You pose interesting questions above, and in some of your other posts. The e wave is just starting to gether momentum. As more and more e readers become avaialble with a broader spectrum of software (non proprietary blends hopefully) and more attractive price points, you’ll find more market segment development and as a result, more contract specifics requested by authors. Until then, I think that the more traditional houses will continue to try and contain and shape the wave rather than ride it and work with it’s potential.

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  13. Karen Templeton
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 15:38:50

    Sarah, one thing I’ve heard from several quarters is that the most successful e-pub’d authors are those who write erotic romance — the hotter and more “out there,” the better. More traditional fare seems to have not (thus far) fared as well. Another reason why, for those of us who don’t write the really hot stuff (and who are contracted with a traditional print publisher), at this point e-publishing isn’t a particularly viable alterative.

    Which leads me to more musings: Assuming those more successful e-pub’d authors are primarily writing books that stretch — or stretched — the NY print publishers’ boundaries (so readers could only find those stories through Ellora’s Cave and the like), I’m wondering how NY’s getting into the erotica/erotic romance game in such a big way will affect the smaller presses’ e-book sales.

    I still don’t see a huge shift happening in the NEAR future, though. Not after ten years of hearing that said shift was imminent. :) I know e-book sales have grown quite a bit during that time, but the market share is still minuscule compared with print, and that given a choice, it would seem that the majority of readers still prefer print over electronic.

    As Christine R. said, I’m not sure I’ll see that shift in my writing lifetime.

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  14. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 17:42:09

    Hey Karen,

    I think you’ll definitely see the shift in your life time. And, well, I do beleive it is a misconception to think only high kink way out there ebooks sell and only ebook authors that produce high volumes of books make money.

    The people that buy ebooks books do not step out of the twilight zone to do so. They are the same exact buying public that shops at Walmart, Borders, B&N etc. The same day they buy one of my Promise books, they may have just come back from Walmart where they bought yours. With more computer saviness and more reading devices , readers have more options to fill their needs and they are now exploring a bigger market to find the books that fit their taste. And just like when they buy a NY print book, sometimes they find treasures and sometimes they’re disappointed, but it’s the same buying publlc with the same tastes and preferences. They just have more books to choose from and since the epublishers can better afford to take risks on really good niche books, they get more variety to choose from.

    I personally believe there’s going to be a sudden and dramatic surge in the ebook market caused by some new technology (the way the Ipod did for music) that will have everyone saying, “Well, that happened fast.” I mean, after all, there’s a reason every publisher out there is converting it’s new boooks and backlist to e format and contracting all the erights they can at the lowest rate they can and it’s not because market research said ebooks are never going to amount to anything-

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  15. Ursula
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 18:30:20

    Sara, I agree with you.
    Right now between myself and my husband, we hit the bookstore circuit twice weekly, sometimes three times if there is an expected release we’re looking for. We spend monthly about $200 on books, it’s our main entertainment. We also get e books. I read on my lap top right now, but I’m eagerly anticipating the release of an e book reader that doesn’t have the proprietary issues that sony has. Once I have one where I can get books in multiple formates from different sales outletts on line, I’ll be moving all my purchases where possible to e format. I have a two family house, and it’s filled to the rafters with books. As soon as I have a good reader, I’m going to buy in print only the books I want as keepers. The rest, I want in e-format: I’m at critical mass, and the space is a big issue. I also travel and I want to have a selection of books to read, not just one or two limited by how much I feel like lugging around.

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  16. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 18:47:34

    Hi Ursula,

    I’m in the process of converting my entire keeper shelf into ebooks. As soon as another back list is released, I snatch it up. I travel a lot and I want my library with me. And well, I’m also at critical mass. *wry grin*

    Have you tried the ebookwise? I love *big hug to the ebookwise* mine and buy books from everywhere.

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  17. Jane
    Jan 01, 2007 @ 18:51:44

    I mean, after all, there’s a reason every publisher out there is converting it’s new boooks and backlist to e format and contracting all the erights they can at the lowest rate they can and it’s not because market research said ebooks are never going to amount to anything-

    This is what makes me believe that there must be an imminent future for ebooks. Why would all these publishing houses be investing in the digitization of both the front list and the backlist if there isn’t any money in it? There are thousands of ebook readers out there. Definitely not as many as the ones cruising the shelves at Wal-Mart and the grocery store, but the number is increasing rather than decreasing.

    You could say that the ebook market is the only division within publishing that is actually growing.

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  18. Angie
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 20:01:57

    I came back looking for this post tonight, because I was browsing Harlequin’s ebook store. And it was brought back to me forcefully why, though I’m an avid ebook reader and would rather purchase an ebook version than a paper version, I’ve NEVER bought an ebook from Harlequin. Their pricing is ridiculous. I love their Luna line. I own most of the books available in ebook format in paper, but I would never, ever pay the same for the ebook as I could for the paper. Why? Because by their nature ebooks aren’t meant to be traded, bartered, exchanged or shared. For that kind of proprietary format, I want a price cut. I can’t recoup my losses if I hate the book, don’t want it any more or want to pass it on.

    I’d guess that price is the reason (as I think Sybil touched on) that Harlequin’s ebook venture isn’t showing great results thus far (going by Karen’s report). Because most people do want a lower price for their ebooks. We hear that all the time. Publishers really need to listen to that, to keep an ebook customer’s business.

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  19. Nicole
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 22:38:14

    Harlequin’s ebooks are just too expensive. Why would I pay MORE for the ebook than for buying it at Walmart or Target?

    At least give us the same discount as those places do. but until then, I won’t be buying many of Harlequin’s ebooks. I may love to read, but I’ve also got to budget.

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  20. Sybil
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 23:01:58

    Really it seems Harlequin has the best set up and best reasons to take advantage of ebooks.

    Templeton said (I think it was her) in the comments erights are apart of the package… so they have allllllllll of those books to pick from. Plus they have an amazing back list of authors who are so popular today. They have to be making coin off Elizabeth Lowell because they reprint her just about every other day?

    To me they could recoup their ‘investment’ into the ebook trend off the backs of backlists and out of print books alone. And where is this advertising they spent money on?

    Harlequin needs younger readers. Maybe in addition to Manga it would be worth investing in those younger readers who are techno geeks, have ereaders and might pick up a book called Pregnant with the Bosses Baby a little quicker if no one knew what they were reading.

    And their older readers? The Next crowd they are going for and on up… help them become apart of the ebook crowd! They wouldn’t have to worry about print size, getting to the store or having to talk someone into bringing them to them. And not all ereaders even need a computer. I know my ebookwise can connect directly. If they are spending cash on advertising… that is where they should be spending it.

    They should be giving away a choice of a free ebook download to their members getting books every month to whatever line they are getting. What would they lose? Many wouldn’t even use it but the ones that would…

    And most of all the month advance is so cool. What other publisher can you get the book a month early in eform? Oh that is right Simon does it at 40% off cover. People may have been saying the ebook movement is just around the corner for a while now… but the point is it is here. And almost every major player in the market is getting involved.

    Shouldn’t Harlequin with their many lines, from paranormal to historical, be at the head of the class instead of playing catch up?

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  21. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 23:47:41

    It is distinctly possible that Harlequin doesn’t have the ebook rights to their entire back catalog of books, although it depends on how far back you want to go and how draconian the contracts are. In general I have to think that at least some of their books were published with contracts before ebooks even existed. Harlequin could argue that the older contracts by default included ebook rights, even though such a thing never existed when the contracts were signed. Certainly if the Harlequin boilerplate contract included the phrase “all publishing rights” or something similar, they would have a case, but that would be a fairly egregious contract. Otherwise, those rights would be retained by the author.

    As to different pricing, I have to think that Wal-Mart and other large distributors would be extremely upset if the Harlequin books they stocked were undercut in price by Harlequin elsewhere. Distributors like Wal-Mart hold all the cards in that scenario and Harlequin won’t cave in to them.

    The only way to get around the scenario is to create a staggered release schedule, with the ebook released at a discount six months to a year after it is released in print, but even that may be a non-starter for Wal-mart and Target. As I said: They hold all the cards.

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  22. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 07:08:37

    “To me they could recoup their ‘investment’ into the ebook trend off the backs of backlists and out of print books alone. “

    Uhm, *raising hand* They’d certianly make money off me as I’m currently converting my Keeper shelf to ebooks and I even went so far as to email my wish list of out of print books I’d like converted. I’m ever hopeful of having my entire Keeper shelf in ebook format some day so it can travel with me everywhere. :)

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  23. Donna Alward
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 23:39:17

    This is a really interesting topic for me, being on both sides of the coin.

    My first 2 books are with an e-publisher, my second two with H/S.

    As my second one only releases next week, I don’t know about numbers. But I know the numbers from my first book and I can say without hesitation that I will never make off of it what I made with my first H/S advance. No matter what percentage I’m earning.

    I am one of those authors who will agree that, at least for right now, the hotter books or paranormals seem to be the ones that really sell. I write traditional romance, which I think a lot of times gets overlooked. And yes, some e-published authors make a good living. There are a lot more who don’t.

    A plus side to e-publishing is that there is a lot less restriction as to subgenre as opposed to writing within a line in the category market.

    Is Harlequin’s e-book rate fair? Hardly. Am I unhappy there? Absolutely not. I have a wonderful editor and a supportive office. Will the e-book market suddenly take off? I don’t know.

    I think Karen said it best in her quote:

    But until this author sees proof that she’d earn at least as much from an e-book sale (or sale to a small or e-book publisher) as I currently do with Harlequin, the benefits of writing for them — or most print publishers — still outweigh the drawbacks. At least I know the books are going to be out there, in the face of any reader who goes into a Wal-Mart, grocery store or Waldenbooks.

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  24. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 08:39:23

    “”I think Karen said it best in her quote:

    But until this author sees proof that she’d earn at least as much from an e-book sale (or sale to a small or e-book publisher) as I currently do with Harlequin, the benefits of writing for them — or most print publishers — still outweigh the drawbacks. At least I know the books are going to be out there, in the face of any reader who goes into a Wal-Mart, grocery store or Waldenbooks.”"

    Now to me, this is the equivalent of saying, “Until I see proof that I’ll make as much money as Linda Lael Miller or Nora Roberts, I won’t sign with a NY print publisher.” IMO, publishing is publishing and the risk is the same for the author whether the author is publisihing In NY or Epublsihed. There are no guarantees of success or income for an author no matter where they publish. All either market offers is the potential for success, and what authors gamble on every time they sign a contract is that they will be able to hook into a piece of that potential. The emarket has proven there is potential for success there, the same as in the NY market. That being the case, the most sensible thing to do, IMO, is to utilize both markets to maximize exposure, IOW, for an author to position themselves in such a way that they have the most opportunity for success now and twenty years from now.

    What I find intersting about this discussion is the NEED for guarantees when it comes to epublsihing and a “whatever I get is fine” mentality when it comes to print publishing. Both markets appeal to the same readership and are competing for the same dollars. One, however is growing rapidly while the other is holding steady. That being the case, it simply is not logical to me that an author would close themselves off from the expanding one through a double standard.

    I’m happy with all my publishers, NY and Electronic. Extremely happy and pretty much in writing heaven as I get to write at all my houses series of my heart which is pretty much nirvana for an author. In my case, however, it’s not a matter of wondering if my ebooks will make money, but whether I can bring my NY books up to the popularity and success of my ebooks. I entered the NY market knowing that was going to be the challenge. (In many ways I’m starting all over again) I did not, however, sign a contract expecting a guarantee of that working out. I just took the same gamble on my voice that my editors did and am relying on thier expertise to help me succeed in that market. Beyond trying to get the word out, that’s all I can do. I’m a writer after all. Living on the edge of uncertainty and taking calculated risks is pretty much par for the course. :-)

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  25. JulieLeto
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 09:11:27

    Sarah, not to sound contrary…but in print publishing, there *is* a guarantee. It’s called an advance. You don’t get that in epublishing. It’s widely recognized that many, many books will never earn out their advances…sometimes, publishers don’t even expect it. But the amount of the advance sometimes correlates with the amount of promotion a book will get from a publisher trying to recoup that initial investment, along with the investment in the creation of the book itself. Since epublishing has a much lower investment (no advance in most cases and low overhead) there isn’t as much “push” coming from the publisher, leaving it to the author alone to get the word out.

    I’m not knocking epublishing, I’m just saying that it requires much more work on the part of the author to promote and there is no advance against those royalties to make it worth my while at this point in my career to seriously look at this as an option. My print publishers pay me up front. I consider my advance my payment…royalties are just icing because I can do very little to control my print run, my distribution, my cover…all those elements that are essential to my earning royalties.

    I’m glad that you are doing well in your epublishing career, but I think you’re the exception if you are making 10-20K per book, which is what most Harlequin authors average in established lines. (That’s advance and royalties over a two-three year period, of course…because with Harlequin, you can pretty much guarantee both royalties AND foreign sales with established lines.)

    I’m just going back to the point that Harlequin authors have to pick their battles. Yes, sales have been slipping…but they are doing that across the board in print publishing and frankly, I don’t think it’s because of epublishing.

    I do agree that Harlequin should consider lowering the price on the ebooks…IF they release those books AFTER the initial print release. It doesn’t make sense to me to discount the book BEFORE the print book is out–that, potentially, would only hurt print sales. And if they DO lower the price, the authors definitely need a higher royalty. Why should we make *less* on a product that is essentially the same no matter how the consumer receives it?

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  26. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 10:17:03

    Julie,

    I’m sorry, my point was not to not print publsih, but rather than putting all your eggs into a rather fragile basket of hoping to get a current publisher to change percentages they have absolutely no incentive to change, why not publish a book or two elsewhere in another market where your erights will be fully exploited at a much higher percentage? Iow, have the best of both worlds?

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  27. Sybil
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 10:23:27

    [quote comment="18217"]It doesn’t make sense to me to discount the book BEFORE the print book is out–that, potentially, would only hurt print sales. And if they DO lower the price, the authors definitely need a higher royalty. Why should we make *less* on a product that is essentially the same no matter how the consumer receives it?[/quote]

    I think I am misunderstanding. Are you saying that as a reader, I should expect to pay the same for a paper book (with all the costs involved in making one) as an ebook (with all the costs involved in making one)?

    Because that is apples to oranges.

    In harl case with easy to access ebooks and prices matching the cost of ebooks, I would bet you would be touching a large group that wouldn’t be buying your category anyway.

    Right now Harl is not only charging the same as their print books (if not more), they are charging more for ebooks compared to longer ebooks on the market.

    But I say that thinking you should be making a higher % no matter if Harlequin remains as they are or improves to be a true player in the ebook market.

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  28. JulieLeto
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 10:24:50

    I get it, Sarah. That’s why I also publish with NAL. :-) Trust me when I say that most print published authors are paying attention to epublishing…which is what Karen was saying, I think, but until those books start making money in line with print–or at least close–it’s not an option for many authors to pursue that avenue just yet when our print careers (knock on wood) are still scooting along. My time and creativity are limited. I can’t give three months to a book that will only earn me a couple of thousand dollars (maybe) in the epub world when I can earn considerably more in print.

    But I never say never.

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  29. JulieLeto
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 10:30:40

    I think I am misunderstanding. Are you saying that as a reader, I should expect to pay the same for a paper book (with all the costs involved in making one) as an ebook (with all the costs involved in making one)?

    No, no! That’s not what I’m saying at all. I do believe the prices on ebooks should be lower than print. But I think the royalty to the author should AMOUNT TO the same… meaning if I’m getting 6% on a $4.25 book for print, I should get…I don’t know, 10% on an ebook at $2.50. It costs the publisher less to produce (since MOST of the expenses were born through the print version), but it’s still my creative product. I think $.25 per unit, no matter how it is distributed, is fair. I believe that authors do not, in most contracts, bear the brunt of “discounts.” In other words…even though Walmart discounts their books from $4.25 to $3.50, let’s say, I still get my quarter because the “cover price” is still $4.25.

    But then, I’m clearly looking out for my bottom line!

    Just goes back to my support for higher eroyalty percentages.

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  30. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 10:55:23

    But Julie *blinking inncoently as I play devil’s advocate* how do you know your epublsihed books won’t out earn your NY books unless you give them a chance?

    Can you tell I just think everyone should at least try it once to see if it works for them before writing off epublishing? *G*

    Okay. It’s back too being the mouse in the corner for me now.

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  31. Sybil
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 11:04:48

    [quote comment="18215"]Now to me, this is the equivalent of saying, “Until I see proof that I’ll make as much money as Linda Lael Miller or Nora Roberts, I won’t sign with a NY print publisher.”[/quote]

    Again this is apples to oranges

    If someone publishes with a print publisher… sure they can cross their fingers and hope they sell as well as Nora. But Nora Roberts didn’t become Nora Roberts in a day. (I could be wrong, if I am I am please corrrect me)

    If someone publishes with an e publisher… sure they can cross their fingers and hope they sell as well as you. But as you already stated, you didn’t not sell what you do today at first.

    The ebook market is much bigger than I think many authors give it credit for but it is no where near the print market. This may play into your sells as well. Good ebooks can be hard to find, in my mind harder than print books. (yes it can be hard to find a good print book as well)

    But in many cases (by no means all) print books are still better edited and better written. I say this being just about as pro-ebook as you can get.

    This won’t fix until there are better readers with more options regarding format at better pricing and much more education for the general public.

    And at the heart of it… almost any writer would take being printed vs being epublished. Regardless of the money they could make either way. I would bet many think more along the lines of Laura Lee Gurkhe than Lucy Monroe.

    Maybe what needs to happen is Brenda Hiatt (she is the one that does that money thing right?) do an ebook *g*. Well a good one that sells really really well. I really think for the most part authors don’t think there is that much money to be found in epublishing. And those that think there is… I would beat they think it is only in the HAWT sex stuff.

    And well… maybe it is… personally I have no clue what people make other than people that say – I make really good money. Or I make enough to quite my job. Or things along those lines. It is no ones business what any one person makes but some sort of ‘trust worthy’ ranges might help authors see eprinting is worth looking at.

    Then again at the end of the day… what does an author want… to be the number one best seller at Fictionwise or New York Times list…

    As I said, I could be wrong. I don’t write. Don’t wanna write. I just want a good book to read. And most often I want it when I want it. So I WANT ebooks to happen and happen big. And am very glad their are print publishers like Simon doing it well.

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  32. Karen Templeton
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 11:25:49

    Been over in MY corner, reading all the backing-and-forthing, but had to pop back in to reiterate Julie’s:

    We all know publishing is a risk, sure, and that there are no guarantees of major success. But at this point in my career — ten years, more than twenty published books — there is no WAY I would create new work without an advance. None. BECAUSE I know how much of a risk it all is. And because I’ve talked to other e-pub’d authors who aren’t making anything close to even my lowest earning books, larger royalty percentage notwithstanding.

    Now, if I had a book that for whatever reason hadn’t sold to a print publisher, sure I’d consider e-pubbing, or small press. I’d be crazy not to. Otherwise I’m looking to minimize my risks in an already hugely unstable field, not increase them. At least with an advance, I know I have X amount of dollars coming in on signing, on delivery of proposal, on delivery of manuscript — cold, hard, cash in the hand that keeps me going while I write the book(s).

    But I repeat — this doesn’t mean I’m anti-e-publishing. Obviously, it’s working very well for some authors. It might even work for me, under the right circumstances. But part of my job as an author is to do my homework, to weigh the pros and cons of taking my career in any particular direction, and then make decisions based on my own goals and needs at whatever point I happen to be on my career path. Clearly, Julie and I both feel that the risks with e-publishing outweigh the benefits, that essentially writing on spec isn’t something we feel is viable as long as we have other options. FWIW, there are print publishers I’m not interested in targeting at present, either.

    When e-publishers start offering advances commensurate with what I’m already getting with Harlequin — in effect, a guarantee that I’ll earn at least X amount of dollars per book — then I’ll reconsider. Until then. . .highly unlikely.

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  33. Donna Alward
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 12:32:30

    FWIW, personally my e-pubbing percentage comes in at a lot more work.

    With Harlequin, I do my revisions, and my copy edits. I sign my contract and get paid. I have a chat with my editor, decide what I’m writing next and get on with it.

    With my e-publisher, I spend a lot more time on edits, and they seem to come at crunch time, pretty close to e-release. All the promo is pretty much left up to me, so I spend a lot of time banging the drum. And believe me…the money I’m making pays me next to nothing for my time. And with e-pubbing, you don’t see any $$$ until the release of your book, several months later.

    I don’t think what Karen or I said translates to wanting to necessarily make the equivalent of Nora or other authors (which would be great, but let’s be realistic, lol). But what it does translate to is wanting to make sure that the time we spend – which honestly is at a premium – is compensated in the best possible way and where we’re the most happy.

    I bet for every e-author who makes 10-20k off a book, you’ll find 100 that don’t even break even.

    That’s not to say it’s not the place for some people, because it clearly is. And if you’re talking dollars and cents, you could make 40% at an e-publisher and still make less than the 6% at H/S because you’ve sold fewer copies for whatever reason.

    Sarah you’re clearly very successful in your niche and that’s great. For me personally, while I may not be happy about the low e-book rate at H/S, the benefits I find there do outweigh the drawbacks.

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  34. Nora Roberts
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 12:37:44

    ~”Sorry, you either improve the epublishing royalty rate or all of our authors are walking their next books somewhere else" then things will change.~

    This is not only never going to happen, but should never happen. No agent or agency has the right to lump all their authors together. We’re not a cooperative. One writer may very well elect to fight any clause or issue–that doesn’t mean another writer in the same agency, selling to the same publisher is required to fight the same clause or issue. It certainly doesn’t mean an agency can or would advise all their authors to do so.

    We all have choices, all pick our battles, and all have our own reasons for doing so.

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  35. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 22:16:12

    Nora, there are agencies that have power. Maybe not in romance, but they exist. They know how to wield their power to make things better for their clients. When Jeff Kwatinetz talks to Edgar Bronfman of Warner Music about the treatment of his clients, Bronfman listens. When Michael Ovitz ran CAA, studio heads listened.

    Your comment about no agency having the right to lump all their clients together would elicit a smile from Kwatinetz, Ovitz, and every other major agency player in the media business. That’s what they do! They use whatever advantage they can to help their clients, including leverage the power of their other clients. Do you think that the fact that Kwatinetz represents Kelly Clarkson helps him in his negotiations with his young up-and-coming artists?

    This is all a bit beside the point, however. The real point is that romance authors simply don’t have any other options. In this environment, authors simply don’t have much power. I mean, some major authors could get together and create their own publishing house like Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith did with United Artists, but I’m not sure how realistic that is in a series genre like Harlequin Romances.

    My ultimate frustration is that Harlequin just didn’t need to be so egregious in their greed. As has been mentioned earlier, the costs of epublishing are dramatically lower than print publishing, and the epublishing standard royalty rates are 30-40% or higher. There really is no excuse beyond blatant greed based on the knowledge that they know they can get away with it.

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  36. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 22:21:44

    I believe that authors do not, in most contracts, bear the brunt of “discounts.” In other words…even though Walmart discounts their books from $4.25 to $3.50, let’s say, I still get my quarter because the “cover price” is still $4.25.

    This is not the case in epublishing. Ebooks distributed through Fictionwise are often discounted, and the authors and publishers see their payments reduced accordingly. I brought this up to Piers Anthony, and his response parallels this discussion: Sure it’s thievery, but since Fictionwise is so big, what can we do?

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  37. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 08:02:23

    I don’t know about the music business or other media, but I’m with Writers’ House, and have been for over 25 years. It’s considered one of the most powerful literary agencies out there–not in Romance, but in publishing. There’s never been any suggestion of banding all authors who write for a particular publisher together to boycott that publisher.

    If they did, even if I agreed with their stand on the issue, I’d have to consider walking away from the agency. I won’t be pushed into a group action. To sign or not sign a contract is my choice–and the terms of that contract are something my agent negotiates for me–personally. Just as she would negotiation another contract and its terms–personally and individually–for another client.

    We’re not all the same.

    It’s absolutely true that an agent or agency that represents a best-selling writer has more clout because of that. That certainly may be a tool to negotiate terms for an up-and-comer. But it doesn’t mean, by any stretch, the up-and-comer is going to get the same terms (not just money) as the best-seller, or the steady midlister, or any other client in the agency. Or that the agency should expect to roll all those clients into a ball to demand contractual changes across the board. As a client, I can promise, I wouldn’t roll.

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  38. Jane
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 11:49:09

    I have some other thoughts but cannot coalesce them into a coherent post right now, but I did want to address Ms. Roberts post.

    I understand that authors are individuals, but I don’t understand why authors wouldn’t band together for a better base contract. I recall that there have been at least two SAG strikes and several other threatened SAG strikes performed to better the pay of the rank and file and to enrich actors overall. Actors, like authors, have individual contracts but it would seem to make sense that they would band together to get better provisions in the base contract. I.e., harlequin authors saying I am not going to sign unless the contract terms provide a floor of 15% e-book royalties. Any individual author could negotiate an increase, but there would always be a floor. I think that is what the SAG does/did?

    The other thing I saw was that someone stated the royalty rate depends on what price the book is sold at? I thought that the royalty rate was dependent on the cover price, no matter what the discount the book sold at (except for book club sales).

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  39. Karen Templeton
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:23:49

    On sales dependant on cover price: Yes, Harlequin royalties are always a percentage of cover price, not the retailer’s discount price. So our bookclub sales are based on a lower royalty rate, but still on the standard North American cover price.

    However, the foreign cover prices vary widely — in some places, they convert to less than two bucks a book. And the royalty rate is a small percentage of that. So while the formula doesn’t vary — royalties are always based on cover price, not on retailer discount — we don’t make the same amount from venue to venue.

    On authors banding together like SAG: But authors aren’t unionized (and there’s never been a broad-based consensus to go union, either). We’re all individual entities — some are agented, some not. And you will never get several hundred authors to agree on ANYTHING, let alone to walk away from what, for many, is their bread-and-butter income (and thinking Harlequin would immediately cave is, IMO, a bit naive.) And anyway, threatening to “take our work elsewhere” would carry little weight, since for one thing there’s no other print publisher who does category length work, and for another there’d be no way for other publishers to absorb the hundreds of books Harlequin produces each year. For most of us, the “threat” has no teeth, since there are far too many new writers chomping at the bit to take our place.

    Is it fair, or right? No. Is there much we can to really effect a change? No, again. Not immediately. But you know what? Most authors have, or have had, issues with their publishers at one time or another. This isn’t a “fair” business. So, as Nora said, each author makes her own decisions and picks her own battles, deciding whether, on balance, the benefits of staying with that publisher outweights the drawbacks.

    And that’s about the best any of us can do.

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  40. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:38:53

    I’ll address Nora’s and Jane’s comments in one post, as there is some overlap.

    Jane brings up SAG, but that is a union not a collection of authors in an agency like CAA. SAG also happens to be a very powerful union. But I get the gist of Jane’s point, which is “Why won’t authors band together to make things better?” Well, there are plenty of reasons. The biggest is probably fear: An author may not want to fight Harlequin because they are afraid they’ll be told to walk and the doors will close to them. They simply don’t trust that Harlequin wouldn’t have recriminations against the authors that band together. We’ve seen this attitude in the comments right here. This is one of the reasons that SAG is powerful: It is a group of actors, and movie studios have to face the fact that there is a complaint process if something like that occurred with them.

    Now Nora implies that it is wrong for an agency to fill the role of a union. The trouble is that, in the absence of a union, they NEED to fill that role. The music industry is a good example. There is no “rock star union,” so when digital royalties and rights became a major point of contention at the end of the nineties, it was the talent agencies that flexed their muscle so that the record companies wouldn’t do to recording artists what Harlequin is doing to authors.

    As to authors and their agencies, Nora is with Writer’s House and states:

    There’s never been any suggestion of banding all authors who write for a particular publisher together to boycott that publisher.

    These aren’t the kind of things that agencies communicate to clients. More likely, a writer will say something like, “It seems unfair that my epublishing royalty is the same as my print royalty,” and the agent would reply, “I know. We’re talking to the publishers about that and doing everything we can to get it changed.” Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but I can practically guarantee you that at some point in time, Writer’s House has gone to a publisher over an issue that affected one or all of their clients and said something like, “We represent quite a few of your best-selling authors. If you don’t work to change this situation, we’re going to remember it in the future.”

    By the way, there is another possibility to consider with this issue and why an agency may not fighting the battle: The agency knows that Harlequin is the only game in town and that the ultimate power really doesn’t lie with the authors, it lies with the series title and the Harlequin brand. This very well may be the truth–Harlequin may be able to lose every single one of its authors (including the best-selling ones) and not miss a beat as they find new authors to plug into their series. I hope that’s not true, but it could be. And if that is the case, then authors are simply out of luck.

    Finally, Jane states:

    I thought that the royalty rate was dependent on the cover price, no matter what the discount the book sold at (except for book club sales).

    In epublishing, most contracts pay royalties on the purchase price of the book, not its cover price. As a result, when a distributer like Fictionwise discounts your book 20%, the author and publisher are subsidizing that discount out of their own pockets.

    Finally, Jane, I can’t find your e-mail address anywhere on your site. Could you send me an email at [email protected] (or point my simple-minded brain to the spot where I can send you my book?)

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  41. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:40:00

    We’re not a union. There is no SAG equivilent, really. The Author’s Guild organization often pushes and lobbies on various issues important to writers. But not all writers belong to the AG.

    I sincerely doubt that many writers outside of Romance would be willing to take a stand on a Harlequin policy. In fact, it would be hard to interest most outside of those who write for Harlequin to take a stand. And among those who do write for Harlequin I suspect many will simply depend on their agents to make the best deal possible.

    And agents would have no right to expect their clients to band together over an issue. Right or wrong, we’re all individuals with our own thresholds, our own personal and professional needs. I expect my agent to know and understand mine and work toward them. She always has. I expect she does exactly the same for all her clients.

    At some point, some author or agent will crack the boilerplate, and others will push through the crack and widen it. But to image a group to organize and push through it together, and risk their livelihood in the push, isn’t realistic.

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  42. JulieLeto
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:44:36

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a law or contract provision that makes sure that only SAG actors are hired by the big studios? That the actor has to have his Equity card in order to get a job with so many lines? And that SAG is a union? THAT is why they can throw their weight around as a group…they are unionized. Authors are not. If Harlequin authors don’t want to sign a contract, Harlequin will simply sign up an author who will–and there are quite a few aspiring authors who are willing to give up their first born child for a contract, no matter the terms.

    RWA, as an advocacy group, has contacted HQ in regards to the ebook royalty and they will continue to do so. Authors are continually questioning this clause in their contracts. But until all the authors selling to Harlequin are members of some sort of Guild or union that gives the power to “walk” without being immediately replaced, this isn’t a realistic expectation.

    I was the one who said that I get a royalty on my cover price, no matter what discount is offered by retailers. Someone else posted that this isn’t the case with ebooks.

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  43. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:44:59

    ~Now Nora implies that it is wrong for an agency to fill the role of a union. The trouble is that, in the absence of a union, they NEED to fill that role.~

    I can say, absolutely, if mine did I’d be inclined to walk.

    Yes, I agree, the agent should be working on changing any unfair clause, or what’s seen as one. And the agent should communicate same to the client.

    I’ll ask my agent about the we’ll remember it in the future tactic. It doesn’t sound like her style, but I’m not in on the nitty-gritty of negotiations (that’s why I have an agent) so I can’t say for certain either way.

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  44. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:51:17

    Karen and I posted at about the same time, so I missed her comments. She is probably right in her conclusion: Harlequin’s the only game in town so they can do whatever they want to you as an author.

    I disagree with her comment about authors being too unruly a herd of cats for agencies to be able to rally for change. It was a very similar scenario with musicians, and no one can describe musicians as an organized group.

    As mentioned, the biggest difference between the two is that Harlequin authors have nowhere else to go. So this point by Karen is, to my mind, the final point on the matter:

    Is it fair, or right? No. Is there much we can to really effect a change? No, again.

    One point I’m very curious about is what digital royalty rate that non-Harlequin print authors are getting in the boilerplate contract.

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  45. Maeve Beckham
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 12:57:31

    Ack, don’t ask an agent how they conduct negotiations! That’s like walking into a sausage factory.

    Nora, in the end I pretty much agree with you in that it isn’t realistic in this case. The point I was making is that the digital royalty negotiation has been done before in similar circumstances with musicians. That it won’t work in this case is due more to Harlequin’s monopoly than authors not wanting to work together to help each other.

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  46. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 13:01:50

    Well, I’m only one author, but I’d be a very unruly cat. Nobody’s herding me. Nobody would have ever been able to, not even early in my career.

    I listen to my agent, and trust her completely. I also know she’d never attempt to herd me anywhere. She has and will push for change, but I’ve never known her to do with with threats.

    I’ve walked away from two publishers in my career–one of them was Harlequin. My reasons for doing so were based on my needs, goals, and my career, not anyone else’s. Neither walk was easy. I would expect another author to stay or go depending on her own needs, goals and career, not mine.

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  47. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 13:04:31

    ~Ack, don’t ask an agent how they conduct negotiations! That’s like walking into a sausage factory.~

    It’s really not, or not in this case. 25 years is a long time to be together, and my agent and I know each other very well. She’s always communicated the good, the bad and the ugly to me, because she understands not only that I can handle it, but that I like to know.

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  48. Robin
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 13:06:57

    I understand that authors are individuals, but I don’t understand why authors wouldn’t band together for a better base contract.

    I’ll shamefully admit that I am very much an idealist when it comes to building coalitions for change — I really believe that the strategy is effective and that such collective lifting from the bottom raises everyone up in the end. I can’t speak to this particular situation, but in my own semi-activist experience, I have run across two basic problems: 1) those on the bottom, the exploitees, are often fearful of having what little gains they’ve made taken away from them, and 2) those who have power and are not exploited, but who could be valuable allies, don’t want to get involved in a fight they don’t necessarily see as theirs. Unfortunately, the powerful allies are really necessary to provide clout for the exploitees, and so without the partnership of the big and little guys, the coalition dynamic is not particularly effective. And change then proceeds much more slowly and incrementally, unless, of course, things get so bad for the exploitees that they feel they have more to gain than to lose by banding together and fighting actively for change.

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  49. Jane
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:07:51

    I understand where Ms. Roberts is coming from and I know from reading on the internet that she is a big advocate of romance and helps to draw other readers into the romance umbrella. And, like other big name authors who have crossed over *cough*Iris Johansen*cough*, Ms. Roberts isn’t afraid of saying she writes romance. So I don’t know we can say that she is not interested in helping other authors.

    Now, I am just kind of speaking of the top of my head because I haven’t really given good thoughts to the subject, but it would seem to me that a romance author union provided to better the contractual conditions for new and/or exploited authors would be quite helpful. Why not use a unified group to effectuate change. Perhaps, like Robin, I am just an idealist.

    When I was researching this article, I found some blog posts about how slow RWA was to respond to authors requests for help on this issue of digital royalties. Maybe RWA is the correct body to act in favor of its membership in obtaining changes to the base contract. (I think that the contract would be more fair if there was a provision that was based on profitability if that is indeed the reason why Harlequin’s DRR are depressed). Of course, what kind of punitive action RWA could take that Harlequin would be responsive to is another question.

    As for there being no other game in town, that is true. For now. But when ebooks increase from selling $11 M to selling $51 M a year (which might only be a few years from now), maybe the discussion will be completely different.

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  50. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:29:17

    I’d be very unlikely to join a union. Not much of a joiner.

    There are some who’d disagree, and some who believe we should all come together on any of a variety of issues. Others would likely feel those particular issues aren’t of interest or not a priority.

    Years ago I attended a workshop at a writers’ conference where a member campaigned strongly for everyone in attendance to stand up and tell the group what she got on her last contract.

    Well, no.

    It’s no one’s business what I got on my last contract, and even more to the point what I got doesn’t apply to anyone else. What the writer who wanted this, as a point of solidary, got on her last contract doesn’t apply to anyone else.

    Her thought was that if Author X got $$$ on her last contract for a historical from Publisher Y, than when Author Z went into negotiations for a historical with Publisher Y, she could demand the same terms.

    But in reality, it’s unlikely Authors Z and Y have the same sales history, the same potential, the same output, etc, etc.

    And in this group of about 100 published writers, the only one who gave her contract figures was the writer who made the suggestion.

    We are not a collective. Even royalty rates can and do vary.

    I understand the herd strategy–I wrote for H/S for many years and right or wrong, fair or unfair, they’ve got it and it works for them.

    I prefer making my own inroads. And if I manage to clear a path here or there that another author can follow, that’s great. But I ain’t picking up a machete and blazing a trail.

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  51. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:40:04

    This is a great discussion. What I really like about DearAuthor are the thoughtful posts and the knowledgable comments.

    I would add that maybe what we HS authors should be looking at, beyond using our advocacy groups to try to effect change and arguing the rate with each new contract, is a way to make their raising the eroyalty rates worth their while, somehow. I think, with the psuedonym issue, HS finally realized that it was costing them more in ill will and bad press to keep “owning” authors’ names than it was actually worth to them–also, I wonder if they saw some legal ramifications for them in the future with that issue, that “owning” an author’s name is no more legal than those people who bought up domain names early on to sell to the people who actually owned those names. In any case, HS saw that they could get a fat dose of positive PR and goodwill with their author base and really, not lose a thing, by letting the psuedonym issue go.

    They also raised the royalties on all Non-NA English-language releases a few years ago from 2% of cover price to 4%. Again, created goodwill with the author base for them.

    Hmm. Maybe a study of corporate reasoning is in order here. Maybe we have yet to find the right button(s) to push.

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  52. Donna Alward
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:52:17

    If e-publishing takes off, (and I only say “if” because I’ve been hearing since I started writing in 2001 that as an industry it was poised to explode) then I would expect that might be the time that print publishers will revisit their policies.

    Let’s face it. This is a new market for H/S and IMO they are hedging their bets. If it doesn’t fly for them, financially they don’t take a hit.

    I’m not in marketing. I’m not into PR beyond what I have to do to get my name out there. I’m a writer. Full Stop.

    Christine R. makes a great point I think in the goodwill and press issue.

    I for one would also be reluctant to join a union, for my own reasons. Neither am I comfortable discussing details of my contracts. I will say that though I didn’t go for any major changes, any requests for changes to my contracts were approved with no questions asked. At this point in the game, for me personally, I’ll eat the royalty rate on the e-books in exchange for having an editor I adore working with and an office that has been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about me coming on board. As Nora says, I believe decisions made by authors should be made because of their own personal needs, goals and visions for their career.

    The harlequin machine isn’t perfect. But I’ve yet to find a perfect place to work. And I’d much rather be happy where I work in exchange for a few dollars.

    But again, that’s me personally. I’m all for better contracts for authors, of course I am. But am I ready to be David to the Harlequin Goliath? Wouldn’t that be cutting off my nose to spite my face? I’d be giving up a heck of a lot.

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  53. Robin
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:52:52

    Now, I am just kind of speaking of the top of my head because I haven’t really given good thoughts to the subject, but it would seem to me that a romance author union provided to better the contractual conditions for new and/or exploited authors would be quite helpful. Why not use a unified group to effectuate change.

    I don’t necessarily think a union is necessary – in some cases, in fact, I think circumstantial coalitions and collectives work very well. Unions can, and often do, provide protections for their members, but if you take the labor unions in the US as an example, they have also been at the forefront of efforts to institute more restrictive immigration policies. Not every organization, IMO, is suited to a union. And unions can, in the course of advancing their own agenda, inhibit other kinds of change.

    However, I don’t think that the individual mindset of the artist is mutually exclusive with a more collective intent — in fact, I think individuals tend to do better when they belong to a thriving community where there is a balance of shared and private goods. I tend to be one of those people who thinks that most every problem can be solved by adopting a collective strategy for change, but, a coalition is only as strong as its weakest member (a cliche, but, alas, a true one).

    One problem for Romance writers, though, might be this incredible sense of competition that seems to flow through the mid-list (driven in part, IMO, by factory publishing practices that don’t always give authors a second chance to sell a book). Because you need support from the middle in building a coalition, too. It may also just be a matter of personality. Personally, I don’t think one has to be a conformist by nature to become part of a coalition, but at the same time you can’t force people to adapt to collective work, either.

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  54. Robin
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 15:03:33

    As Nora says, I believe decisions made by authors should be made because of their own personal needs, goals and visions for their career.

    But can’t there be a balance between the writer’s individual sense of well-being and the community of writers as a whole? Does it have to be an all or nothing, zero sum proposition? Because it seems to me that at some very basic level, a thriving community passes the benefits of that thriving on to all its members, and a struggling community distributes those detriments to everyone, as well. That a single author may not feel so strongly and directly those benefits and detriments doesn’t mean they aren’t there or aren’t influential in some way. And just because an author benefits in one sense from a certain industry practice doesn’t mean that they won’t suffer, as well, at some later time. I hear all the time about how wonderful and supportive the “community” of Romance authors is, but I guess I’m wondering what, exactly, constitutes authors’ sense of “community.” Not that everyone has to be dedicated to slaying industry dragons, or anything, but what is the nature of the ties that bind (if they do bind, that is)?

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  55. Nora Roberts
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 16:02:29

    Who’s to define what a detriment might be, specifically? On this e-royalty issue there are some who feel very, very strongly this is detrimental to the Harlequin author base. Others appear to feel it’s more H/S’s toe dipped into the area and wait and see. Others, like me, might have no real opinion on this either way at this point. And I imagine there are scores of others who could care less. I don’t write for H/S, but they are reissuing some of my backlist in this format. So I suppose I have a stake in it, but on this matter, as with most contractual matters, I leave it to my agent to hammer out the terms.

    This may very well all change with time, and the point Christine made about good will is valid. E-books start kicking some righteous ass in sales, more agents and writers will put the pressure on Harlequin to adjust.

    For me, the Romance community is about mutual support, education, networking, information–and certainly about friendships. There is, most certainly, politics and advocacy on some levels. I stay off those levels because I’m not especially interested in either, and I’m no good at them. I certainly respect those who are. Competition exists in every field, and can be healthy–or not, depending. But most of the writers I know personally do what they do, without looking over their shoulder at who’s coming up, or pumping their legs to try to catch who’s ahead of them. If you’re doing that, you’re not looking at the work, and you’re never going to hit the finish line anyway. Or if you do manage it, you’ve sure wasted a lot of energy worrying about everyone else.

    A collective strategy would only work if there is first a collective, then if that collective agrees on the problem at hand, and the stategy to overcome it. That, right there, is something I’d stay well away from.

    I write books. That’s priority. I have opinions–obviously–but those opinions aren’t going to jibe with everyone else’s.

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  56. JulieLeto
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 17:12:10

    I have learned that even when you think you have a “slam dunk” topic that everyone will agree on, there will be opposition. Every writer has different goals and priorities and well, it’s been my experience that it is impossible to get writers to agree on anything. Many writers believe that the low royalty rate is more than fair, some others don’t care one way or another and others, like me, continue to raise the topic in hopes that it will someday change. The same was true with the pseudonym issue. Many writers could have cared less that they didn’t own their names so long as Harlequin continued to publish them frequently and well. Others, like me, had a different view. Such is the way of the world.

    There are authors who will not even agree that plagiarism is wrong (I’m not one of them)…under those circumstances, it is unrealistic to think we can or even should band together about anything.

    I also do not think it is right for an agency to take a stand that would put all their authors careers at risk. Every author is an individual.

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  57. Donna Alward
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 17:17:48

    That’s true Julie- and what I really appreciate is having had a place and opportunity to discuss it.

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  58. Robin
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 19:54:35

    Who’s to define what a detriment might be, specifically? On this e-royalty issue there are some who feel very, very strongly this is detrimental to the Harlequin author base. Others appear to feel it’s more H/S’s toe dipped into the area and wait and see. Others, like me, might have no real opinion on this either way at this point. And I imagine there are scores of others who could care less.

    I’m a very global thinker (which is not necessarily the best thing), and so I tend to go to the meta-levels quickly. In this instance, I guess my sensibility isn’t directed at Harlequin or even at royalty rates on e-books but more generally on how authors are valued in a particular industry and how that valuation process is or isn’t equitable across industry players, etc. Those are the kinds of issues I think of when I think of the gains to be had for authors who choose to engage in more cooperative or collective thinking. When folks are satisfied with the status quo, such thinking doesn’t seem so necessary, and then when an issue comes up, community members will, as you say, have different opinions on a particular issue.

    I’ve spent my whole career in education, some in educational partnership work — that is, in collaborative approaches to educational change. It’s challening but fascinating. Higher ed people often think problems exist because of poor K-12 teachers and schools, while K-12 people tend to see higher ed people as aloof and disconnected. Legislators have a certain view, too, as do community leaders, parents, and students. Rural areas have different priorities from urban ones, etc. But regardless of the particular issues (who’s responsible for kids not taking algebra early enough, or for AP courses not being offered at certain minority high schools, or for over-reliance on the SAT in college admissions), there is a shared sense of *problems* more generally, that afffect every tier of the educational system, and which, fortunately or unfortunately, are best met by collaborative approaches across educational sectors and areas.

    So believe me, I understand all about herding cats. But educators who are working in collaborative initiatves aren’t giving up their individual culture or their independence or their autonomy; all those things are resources they bring to their collaborative work. It’s just a part of what they do, and it’s geared toward specific goals that will benefit the system as a whole. If, for example, you get more kids into pre-school, they do better academically later on, and ultimately colleges have to teach less remedial writing. It’s not mandatory that everyone participate, and it’s not a reflection of their value as educators.

    For authors who want a certain change in their community or industry, I think that cooperative approaches make sense. An author who isn’t interested should never feel pressured to participate, but at the same time, I don’t think collective thinking is tantamount to giving up one’s individuality and independence — at a core level, I think it’s just about sharing resources for greater gain.

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  59. Anonymous
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 13:07:13

    “In order to make $13,700.00 on a book that retails for $5.99 (authors earn their royalty off the retail price, not any discounted price), the author must sell 38,119 copies at a 6% royalty rate:”

    5.99*.06 = .36 cents royalty earned per book. 13,700/.36 = 38,119 copies of books.

    “Take same author and give her book to Ellora’s Cave. At a 5.99 per book, the same author with the same book need only sell 6,099 copies to earn the same amount of money and this does not include any paper sales she may make if EC chooses to sell the book in print format.”

    5.99*.375 = 2.25 royalty earned per book. 13,700/2.25 = 6099 copies of books.

    You know, that’s all well and good, in theory, but honestly, what’s the likelyhood of selling that many books through an ePub? Myself, and a number of writer friends,have tried going the epub way, and sure, it was easier to make that first sale, however, the large dollar amounts they were promising never came through. Our average number of copies sold is about 700 books, which mathmatically works out to…

    700 x 2.25 = $1575.

    That’s a far cry from $3,700. Call me crazy if you will but 6% of 10,000 is still more than 37.5 % of 500

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  60. Anonymous
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 13:12:43

    Oops… That was $13,700 .

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for authors getting decent contracts, so I do hope the traditional houses, like Harlequin up their royalty rates, but honestly, the idea that you can make the same kind of money, selling strictly to epubs is just bad math. ePub’s sales numbers just aren’t on par with the big boys.

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  61. Sarah McCarty
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 13:54:50

    “but honestly, the idea that you can make the same kind of money, selling strictly to epubs is just bad math”

    I’d actually say that last statement has more to do with bad assumption than math or fact. In reality, there are print authors whose entire advance and earn out don’t exceed 3K. It’s just as true that there are strictly ebook authors that make extrememly good money and support themselves and their families on their e royalties. In both ebook and print there is a very wide disparity of income potential and income being realized. In both markets, the only constant for any author is the potential for earnings.

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  62. PhoenixFiresky
    Mar 19, 2007 @ 03:48:56

    I’m a big reader, of paper books as well as ebooks and I have to say that, in my opinion, the publishing houses themselves are the ones who are killing the ebook. In my reader’s opinion, ebooks currently are a publisher’s way of cheating the customer, since they charge very nearly hardcover prices for books that are often available in paperback. Not to mention the fact that the publisher is making a much larger profit on ebooks by not having to produce very little physically in order to publish them.

    When ebooks were first advertised, readers were promised that, because of the reduced expenses, part of the savings would be passed on to purchasers, in the form of the ebook format being less expensive. This hasn’t materialized, though. And, as a reader, I can’t justify spending the money for an expensive electronic reader (nice though it might be) and then having to pay MORE for an ebook than I would for a paperback.

    Why would any customer do this?

    I have bought copies of a few books in ebook format – mostly books such as Terry Brooks’ Shannara series that are so large they are extremely difficult to carry around and read. I have also bought a woman’s erotica book in ebook format, because the format makes it impossible for others to see what I’m reading. And I would love to buy more books in ebook format, because I have a very extensive home library which I add to constantly, and ebooks are extremely convenient both to buy and store – but there’s just no way to justify the additional cost of an ebook, which may only be available as a download for a limited time, vs. a paperback, which can remain in my library for decades. And, until the publishers stop being such greedy SOBs, I can’t see that changing.

    I have come to the reluctant conclusion, in fact, that this throttling of the ebook industry by publishers is being done deliberately. I can’t imagine why they’d want to do away with this format, which could make things so easy for everyone involved, but I can’t see any other explanation, since the publishing houses are far too savvy not to realize the effect their greed has had on the ebook market and on potential readers. Perhaps their motivation is, as I’ve concluded, greed. Perhaps it is somethng else. Perhaps it even stems from the publishers failing to read enough fairy tales in their childhood – because they most certainly are killing the goose that could lay golden eggs.

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  63. Jeff Rivera
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 07:18:51

    I know this is a little off topic but I just wanted to say I’m honored to be reading, participating and in the presence of such prestigious authors. OK, I’m wiping the drool now …

    Jeff Rivera
    Author of FOREVER MY LADY
    Warner/Grand Central
    http://www.ForeverMyLady.com

    ReplyReply

  64. Saturday Midday Links: Harlequin Raises Its Digital Royalty Rate, Kind Of | Dear Author
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 11:01:10

    [...] title books as one of the reasons she decided to self publish.  Five years ago, I wrote about how the low digital royalty rate was effectively allowing Harlequin to experiment with digital publishing at lower [...]

  65. Concepcion
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 01:15:41

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    ReplyReply

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