The Unofficial AAR Blog

The AAR Blog is an open online forum created by the AAR Digital Rights Committee to educate the membership on all aspects of and issues surrounding the emerging digital publishing marketplace.

This blog does not accept comments, but we encourage you to discuss issues raised here to @Digitar on Twitter

All blog posts appearing in the AAR Blog, as well as the contents within the links provided, reflect the views of their individual authors and do not reflect the views or position of the Association of Author's Representatives

  • 08 Mar 2013 1:45 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    I’ve been having (and overhearing) a number of conversations about an emerging phase of the business: one in which publishers and authors are, explicitly, business partners. It’s cropped up when meeting new industry players and when old players are asked how they’re adapting to changing times. At the most fundamental level, I agree that treating authors as partners in this business is a smart and necessary decision. What worries me, particularly with digital-only publishing, is how we’re beginning to define this.


    Does a partnership mean an equal share of the risk and an equal opportunity for reward? Possibly. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily reduce to a no-advance, 50/50 profit-share, pay for production costs scenario, especially at a corporate publisher. I, for one, am not averse to changing business models or averse to recommending that a client take some risks. What I am averse to, however, is accepting terms that on the surface imply an equal risk/equal reward scenario that are, in fact, unequal. Is this different for non-corporate publishers? Maybe; maybe not.


    Look, we all understand that we’re in a for-profit business. So it’s easy to argue that the higher your profit margins, the better, but if you effectively lose your business partners in the process, those margins will not be sustainable—and we’ll all be in trouble.

  • 15 Feb 2013 1:44 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Emily Williams, a long-time publishing insider, wrote a lovely rant this week: Three Helpful Tips for Self-Appointed Technophile Gadflies of the Book Industry

    1. Bother to understand the industry you’re criticizing, and not just by reading the blog posts and Twitter feeds of people who reinforce your preconceptions. Consider the possibility that some of publishing’s idiosyncrasies might be a necessary condition of working in a mature, low margin, creative industry rather than hopeless woolheadedness on the part of everyone who gets paid by a publishing house. To inform your opinion, try reading a book. It’s hard to do better than Merchants of Culture by John B. Thompson…..

    2. If you have thoughts to share about how the book business’s “gatekeeping” or care and feeding of writers can be improved, focus on the books you love rather than the books you despise.  …

    3. Understand that culture and creative expression do not often marry well to scale and replicability.

    These tips are worth reading in their full form here; I’d highly recommend it.

  • 06 Feb 2013 1:41 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Bookish has officially launched!

    For those of you not following along, Bookish is an ebook retailing website with a much-touted recommendation engine, created and backed by publishers (originally Hachette Book Group, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, now joined by 16 other publishers).

    Publishers Lunch reports here on its opening, and DBW suggests three reasons Bookish will fail – and three that it might succeed.

    What do you think of Bookish’s promise?  Please tweet us at @digitaar to let us know what you think and start a conversation.

  • 01 Feb 2013 1:40 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Please note: Simon Lipskar did not write this post! I (Katie Zanecchia) work with Simon at Writers House and I’ve recently joined the committee. I’ll eventually be writing under my own name but given the recent conclusion of DBW and Tuesday’s news, I wanted to share these thoughts as soon as possible.

    I left Digital Book World two weeks ago shocked, and a bit disheartened, by the number of subscription-based models our colleagues were talking about. Netflix for books! Wouldn’t it be great if we had a Spotify for books? Legitimate subscription models will decrease piracy! Tuesday’s NYT article, “As Music Streaming Grows, Royalties Slow to a Trickle,” that Linda’s already referenced, reinforced the challenging and, in my opinion, damaging effects of subscription models on creative artists.

    It’s important to remember that books and music aren’t as analogous as recent discussions imply, both in terms of consumption patterns and business context. Firstly, we turn to Spotify, Pandora, Songza, YouTube for repeated, and often prolonged-but-inactive, consumption. The act of reading a book is distinct, and there is no real parallel between how we read and how we listen to music. On this basis alone, subscription models should be questioned by authors, by their agents, and by their publishers.

    Secondly, companies like Spotify are rising from an industry not only completely gutted by piracy but also dominated by a single retailer with a view of the low commodity price of music. In this industry, it’s possible that legitimate subscription models do help decrease piracy and are helping re-monetize the digital consumption of music (even if the artist receives an insane rate of half a cent per stream). But this is not a problem facing the digital consumption of books. While piracy certainly affects our industry, it hasn’t undermined the profitability of publishing. In fact, we’ve seen tremendous commercial success with our digital product. We don’t need a subscription model to fix a comparable problem, because that comparable problem doesn’t exist. Book-based subscription models will, unquestionably, undermine the e-book business that continues to thrive.

    Furthering the complexities of the economics, subscription models are hugely problematic when it comes to compensating artists. Consider the “Gangnam Style” example in Tuesday’s article: yes, Psy made $8 million, but he still only made .6 cent per view. What happens to the mid-list artists who never come close to phenomenon status? They receive less than pennies. If we’ve already determined that consumption patterns and the business contexts are different, it begs the question: why we are even considering modeling the compensation terms on these services? [It’s worth revisiting Simon Lipskar’s post from late 2011 exploring this very issue.]

    Ah, but what about discovery? It seems that discoverability is the new magic word when talking about e-books, but I don’t think we’ve come close to figuring it out just yet. Catalog availability and discovery are two very different animals. A subscription service may make a number of titles available, but what specific examples have we seen where that availability translates directly to meaningful discovery? Unless we see a subscription service that is truly aiding discovery in measurable, consistent, and effective ways, I remain skeptical of the baseless discoverability claims.

    I’ve also heard a conversation stirring based on the assertion that while there isn’t a “problem” here, per se, consumers are thirsty for these models. Taking it one step further, there are those that assert that if consumer demand continues to grow, someone will oblige. If that’s the case, why not get ahead of the game and introduce competitors immediately? Even if this were to come to pass, pure capability does not justify rash, destructive behavior. We can fight these models, and we can exclude our content. And a word on this speculative consumer demand: the truth is, consumers want a lot of things they can’t have. Just because they might want a book-based subscription model doesn’t mean they should get high value content from publishers via a book-based subscription model.

    I find it imperative that we, as agents, continue to keep our heads above the chatter. As I see it, at this point in time, we’d be throwing our authors into a model that a.) doesn’t work with how we read, b.) doesn’t effectively help us discover new titles, and most importantly, c.) doesn’t appropriately compensate authors for their inclusion and their accessed titles. Until things change in a dramatic way, I think it’s crucial to approach these services with caution and judiciousness.

  • 29 Jan 2013 1:37 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    New York Times–Music Streaming

    If subscription is part of the book business’ future, this front page NYT article on this growing model in the music business may offer a preview….in related, if not so recent, news, Audible is offering a purportedly higher flat fee for rights with delayed royalties, so that their subscription model can further grow…

  • 25 Jan 2013 1:36 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    What is the future for enhanced e-books? This piece in Business Insider discusses why the comparison between the HTML 5 and app format is important and which format will ultimately prevail:
  • 11 Jan 2013 1:34 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Good news Target lovers! (Yes, that was pronounced tar-zhay.) Thanks to the latest partnership between txtr and ReaderLink, you can add ebooks to the shopping megastore’s convenient approach to shopping online. And Target isn’t the only big box retailer getting in on the ebook action. Walmart, Walgreens, Kohl’s, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, and Costco are just a few of the other sites you can visit to shop for ebooks and, well, everything else.

    Shoppers can already find ReaderLink-distributed print books on the shelves of these retail one-stop-shops, but this new partnership will allow grocery stores, mass merchants, and warehouse clubs to offer ebooks via their websites. The partnership will “enable U.S. consumers to buy from any of the ReaderLink powered ebook stores and read all books from a single cloudbased personal library- all of your ebooks in one single vault.” And soon you will be able to read your ebook on a new ereader or tablet that the txtr/ReaderLink partnership plans on developing and selling through these same stores.

    The partnership between txtr and ReaderLink could provide an alternative to the ebook behemoths, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. ReaderLink and txtr say that they are looking to create another alternative for consumers, one that will be a “virtual federation” for non-trade and independent booksellers.

    What does this mean for those of us in publishing? All signs point toward new ideas about book packaging, product placement, and spokesperson deals. Because the outlets the txtr/ReaderLink partnership targets offer a variety of non-book products, new options are opening for connecting books to other goods (and people). On Target’s website looking for new curtains? Why don’t you also buy this handy home design book appropriately displayed to help you redecorate? How convenient! Now a spatula can sell a cookbook – and a cookbook can sell a spatula. Might be interesting.

  • 09 Jan 2013 1:32 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Whenever I hear about a new entry into the world of online publishing, I want to know: what are they doing for their authors.  In the past, before the emergence of author-friendly services like KDP, PubIt, and Writing Life, writers were limited in their options outside of traditional publishing.  Thus, ePublishing was a great solution for many authors; cheaper and more professional than self-publishing in the event that traditional publication was not a possibility, for whatever reason.  However, not all ePublishers were…well, actually publishing their authors.  Oh, they might have been paying for an amateur cover, doing some basic conversion to ePub or PDF or Mobi, and uploading the book to retailers.  But all of that can now be handled by an author with some time, money, and know-how (oftentimes, not even all three).  Given that, ePublishers who are only doing such work are hardly justifying their 40-60% net fee.

    So what should you expect out of an ePublisher in today’s market?  Agents, looking at ever-shrinking genre imprints at traditional houses, would do well to consider this question as many authors are actually requesting that we look for ePublication solutions.

    Yesterday’s announcement brought this question to the forefront of my mind: relative-newcomer to the digital publisher space, Entangled, has signed on to have their global digital distribution and, in limited cases, their print distribution, handled by Macmillan Publishers.  Initially, this seems like great news for Entangled authors: surely, they get a great deal more reach with this new partnership!  But in a world where–even globally–the eBook market is still dominated by at most four or five retailers, I’m not certain I see the value for authors.  For Entangled, certainly–in-house retailer relationships are complicated and difficult.  But is Macmillan’s staff going to be pitching Entangled authors’ books to retailers for those Gold Box or Special Finds deals with quite the same fervor?  When those titles get pulled down for no reason, or the descriptions go up completely incorrectly, or the price change just doesn’t get made, how much longer will the fix take when it isn’t handled in-house?  And financially–is the distributor’s cut being taken out of the author’s share?  I’ve certainly run into ePublishers where that’s the case.

    Of course, a smaller publisher having a larger publisher manage their distribution is nothing new and perhaps no cause for concern at all.  And, indeed, Entangled may have been handling their distribution through a third party already.  To me, though, it feels like in a digital world where even a single author can handle eBook distribution (to an extent), ePublishers must try a little harder to prove their value to their authors–and the agents who are representing them in the digital-only space with increasing frequency.

  • 07 Jan 2013 1:31 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Earlier last week, Barnes and Noble posted some not-so-positive news about their sales numbers.  According to the New York Times, “The bookseller said revenue for the Nook unit – including e-readers, digital content and accessories – fell 12.6 percent, to $311 million, during the holiday shopping season, compared with the period a year earlier. Digital content sales rose 13.1 percent, while sales of Nook devices declined.”  The Nook devices sold well during Black Friday, but apparently there was a shortfall in the estimated December sales.  Read more about this here.

    Why does this matter for agents?  In an environment with so few brick and mortal retailers, the best hopes for competition in book sales come from the online environment.  With one of the strongest e-retailers falling nearly 13% in sales from last year, agents need to keep thinking about just what this means for their authors in particular and the industry in general.  B&N, of course, believes that their digital content sales will raise profits in 2013, but agents should keep a careful eye on statements and know, to the extent they can, from where their authors’ sales are coming.

  • 05 Dec 2012 1:30 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Also making news today: Hachette changes pricing terms on e-books. As reported in Publishers Marketplace, Hachette goes to “agency lite” which seems to mean that Hachette remains the ‘seller’ of the book, but Amazon is free to discount the books at will, according to the terms of the DoJ settlement. For agents, of course, this again throws out the window our real understanding of how our clients will be compensated for e-book sales. Yes, we know that in virtually all cases they will get 25% of net reciepts, but since we no longer know the price at which the publisher is selling to the retailer (the retailer doesn’t need to list it) or the discount that the publisher is giving to the retailer– a lot of this is happening in the dark. Yes, we will see royalty statements, but god knows they don’t always give us the insight we would like.

    The goal seems to be to ask as many questions as possible and try to get the publishers to tell us exactly how our clients work is being sold  so that we can look out for the clients best interests as we are charged to do.   Of course, we never had real influence over selling terms to retailers, but at least royalties based on list price gave us a firm grasp on what to expect and what was happening. Now, all bets are off.

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