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

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  • 09 Dec 2011 1:13 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    All too often in publishing conversation, the talk turns with dread to the future of publishing—eBooks destroying publishing-as-we-know-it and pushing bookshelves into obsolescence, bookstores into bankruptcy, and authors into a world where consumers can find books only by intentionally navigating to a few major eBook retailer sites, or buying an ereader and downloading content.  In the ebook world, how do you get people who don’t normally buy books to buy your books?


    Recent news, however, should give hope that even IF the world goes all e-book (something which is likely still far in the future, if at all), there could still be an answer to that question.  Overstock.com announced this week that they will be selling ebooks on their site in a partnership with Barnes and Noble’s Nook store (http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/06/overstock-barnes-noble/).


    At the moment, this ‘partnership’ merely means that www.overstock.com/ebooks sends potential ebook buyers to a landing page with a list of genres and Top Sellers taken (I assume) from the Nook Store; selecting any book cover on the page sends them to the Nook Store for more detailed information about the books, further browsing, and the actual book sale.


    As the industry still reels from the elimination of the lessened visibility of books caused by the closing of Borders, I believe it is heartening news to hear about non traditional stores getting into the business of ‘selling’ ebooks–reaching more consumers, especially those who would not normally pop into physical, let alone electronic, bookstores–in a way that could easily lead to an impulse buying and reading of an ebook.


    While this news brings only a new storefront for books rather than a new retailer, I believe that technological advances, the lack of need for physical storage and lower overhead costs, along with the increasing sales in ereading devices will encourage other retailers to seek entry to the ebook world in even more significant ways, leading to cross-promotion of products with associated ebooks or other creative ways to get ebooks into the hands of interested consumers.

  • 02 Nov 2011 1:12 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Dear Colleagues in the industry, remember all of those clauses we have in our contracts regarding e-books? The ones that say that when Industry standards change we will all be renegotiating new e-book rights? Well that time is now. E-book industry standards have changed.


    Why have we not heard this news from our publishers?


    Think of the number of contracts you have with that clause and then multiply it by x. This is the number of clauses that would have to be modified by publishers if they admitted to this obvious change. From a publisher’s perspective, the only possible change they would concede would be one where they would be raising the 25% royalty rate and overnight their profits would plummet. As you can imagine, this is not an attractive prospect.


    Have industry standards changed? Yes


    Will we first hear this from the publishers? No


    What are these changes?


    Well, there are, of course, the many emerging publishers doing business in the publishing world who offer much more lucrative e-book royalties. But they offer low advances or no advances. However we are starting to see that when publishers want a project enough, they find workable solutions with agents that are not the straight 25% we were given to believe was the 11th commandment. We are even seeing, the big publishers, developing creative e-book royalty solutions where rights were not clearly delineated in the original contract. And we are seeing authors make drastic choices, especially if they know that their books perform well in the e-book format – jumping ship, and working with the new publishers on the block who offer them a fairer piece of the pie.


    What else has changed?


    We are now often at 50% or more of total books sold for a particular title. When e-book royalties were first set at 25%, e-books were a fraction of the market (please refer to the many analyses that have been done over the years on the growth of the e-book industry). E-books are no longer a fringe subsidiary right but an essential format, just like print paperback and hardcover. I would even argue that e-book is the predominant format in the US, because, regardless of whether a book is published in hard cover, soft cover or in print at all, you can bet that practically every single US publisher acquiring rights to a new book today, will be releasing it as an e-book. The e-book format is the one guaranteed format for all of our future books. It has arguably swallowed up the custom of multiple print formats. In other words, whatever the print format for your first publication of a book may be, the future will see e-book as your second and possibly the only other format for your book. This is a major industry shift that has happened this year and publishers are now debating how best to handle it. Does this mean that we should only publish in Hard Cover and E-books or just Trade paperback and e-books? Forget about mass market! What we are seeing here is clearly an industry shift. This is a changed industry. Industry standards have changed.


    Now what about the problems our publishers face if they admit to this change? Should we care?


    I say yes, because, when we all agreed to these delightful industry standard clauses, we neglected to realize how we were painting ourselves into a corner. As Paul Aiken from The Author’s Guild pointed out in his article “Inertia, unfortunately, is embedded in the contractual landscape. If the publisher were to offer more equitable e-royalties in new contracts, it would ripple through much of the publisher’s catalog: most major trade publishers have thousands of contracts that require an automatic adjustment or renegotiation of e-book royalties if the publisher starts offering better terms… Given these substantial collateral costs, publishers will continue to strongly resist changes to their e-book royalties for new books.”


    Should we then accept the status quo and abandon hope of ever effecting change with the big publishers?


    This is not a solution because, by not demanding change, we not only create an unfair structure for our authors, we also allow authors to more easily abandon traditional publishers when we know this means losing out on the editorial, marketing and publishing help that these professionals do so well when they try.


    Many have examined the e-book royalty math extensively and so I will only say that we must look at the origins of the Hard Cover 15% of list royalty. How did publishers, agents and authors come up with this percentage? Well, when you deduct the discount given to booksellers off the list price and the cost of producing a print book, half of the remaining proceeds roughly comes to 15% list. In other words, 50% net.


    Consequently, the concept of offering 50% of the revenue is a long standing industry standard for Hard Cover royalties.


    What is the solution?


    Let’s take another look at Hard Cover royalties. While the lucky few are able to get a straight 15% hard cover royalty for their authors, this has not become the industry standard. Escalators are the standard and it is in escalators that we find the solution to the e-book royalty dilemma. With escalators, we can at last accommodate books whose sales do not justify a big piece of the pie and should stay at 25% as well as rewarding those authors whose major sales are happening in e-books. Escalators would allow everyone, including the authors and creators of the work, to share in success once the justified overhead costs are amortized.


    This should be our new industry standard for e-books and it should not cause a massive shift in revenue for our publishers except for books that have earned it.


    Now is the time to call our publishers and let them know. Remember that clause about e-book industry standards changing? Well now they have. That time is now.

     

    Let me know what you think. Send me a Tweet at either @jvnla or @digitaar

  • 27 Oct 2011 1:10 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    Vook is offering a free white paper on avoiding issues like formatting problems, typos, etc. — a helpful document for agents who are aiding their clients in publishing original ebooks or reissues.   You definitely don’t want problems like those on the Kindle release of Neal Stephenson’s README — corrected only after the public outcry from readers like my colleague (and AAR contracts committee member)  Shana Cohen, who may have been the first reader to tweet about it.   Even Walter Isaacson’s STEVE JOBS was temporarily removed from the iBookstore due to formatting errors.   Download this, and you can do better, says Vook.
  • 18 Aug 2011 1:09 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    I have been fascinated about how, when discussing options our authors have to publish either new or out-of-print books, people either look at the classical publishers or self publishing. There are options in between that offer better e-royalties, curation, promotion, marketing, proofing and many of the other services we expect of classic publishers.


    Of course advances are nothing to speak of … or really nothing but, as opposed to the self publishing route, this alternative does not require authors and their agents to completely reinvent themselves. The structure is more like a partnership where the publisher has much at stake to build a name and you are helping this happen.


    As the Agent’s role is continually debated these days, let’s factor this in. For the resourceful Agents, drastic measures are not always necessary nor are they the best solution for our authors. Let’s do what we do best. Find the best publishers for our authors – they are still out there.

  • 17 Aug 2011 1:08 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Have you seen this new site called Booklamp.org?  I first learned of it through A PW tweet which sent me to this article .  Described as the “Pandora for Books”, the site links you with books that have a similar DNA as the books you enter.  I tried it with our author CW Gortner and found our other author Karleen Koen as a suggestion.


    What makes this site special if it takes off, is that it is not, at least at present, influenced by outside forces in its recommendations.


    It is true, as one person commented, that it will not tell you whether these are good or bad books, but it will attempt to find books with a similar feel to the one you enjoyed regardless of the book’s origins.  With bookstores closing down and many of the on-line book sites giving biased suggestions based on their relationships with publishers, it is truly refreshing to see a site that could fill a growing void.

  • 15 Aug 2011 1:06 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Today PW posted a piece about the school market and e-books and the Financial Times in the UK had a piece about how e-books are now an established form of reading.


    This begs the question, how is this new technology working for the textbook market? We have seen Amazon try to break into this market a number of times (WSJ) , but there is a fundamental problem for all of the popular readers and the school market. Taking notes! As a student, you read actively – highlighting, writing notes on the margins, flagging pages so that, when needed, you have the ability to quickly find relevant information to study for the test or write the paper.


    While many readers now have some form of note taking, none provide the kind of flexibility truly needed by a student of today. Copia has presented a possible solution with shared note taking on a larger screen where you have room for an extra column to see your notes alongside the book, but will they be able to gain market share in an already crowded market? Because of these unsolved problems, we have yet to see someone truly harness this huge share of the market. What are your thoughts? Send a Tweet to @digitaar or use the hashtag #aardvark to respond.

  • 30 Jun 2011 1:02 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    What creates the word of mouth that turns a book into a bestseller? Two items from the NYTBR of June 26 provide an interesting juxtaposition.


    Reviewing a new book about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Andrew Delbanco notes “the first print run was 5,000. Within a year, the book had sold 300,000 copies in America, and over a million in Britain. …If ever there was a publishing event to prove te principle that timing is everything, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was it. On both sides of the sectional divide te timber was dry — and Stowe struck the igniting spark.”

    But was the spark transmitted by a select group of key influencers, the theory about word-of-mouth propagated by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point?


    Duncan Watts’ new book, Everything Is Obvious, suggests a different notion. In his NYTBR review, Nicholas A. Christakis says that “the most highly connected individuals were not the whole story. The spread of an idea or tase depended not only on such individuals, but also on ‘a critical mass of easily influenced people who influence other easy-to-influence people. When this critcal mass existed, even an average individual was capable of triggering a large cascade.’”


    So who were the “easily influenced” who started the cascade for Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852? And who will be the easily influenced who lead to the next breakout book of 2011?

  • 18 May 2011 1:00 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    It's amazing to me that, fifteen years into the internet revolution, we're still arguing about stuff that seemed like it had been settled a decade ago. Case study: Go the F*** to Sleep.


    It's #1 on Amazon. Has been for weeks. I'm guessing it will stay that way until its release - and then some. It sold in a big six figure movie deal to Fox. Foreign deals are happening across the world. And all because the PDF has been passed from person to person to the tune of (I'm guessing) millions of copies around the globe.  And it hasn't even been published yet.


    Nonetheless, people in the media and in publishing are anguishing over the "piracy of the intellectual property." Shelf Awareness quotes people raising concerns about the "long-term impact."


    Really?


    Several thoughts jump to mind:


    1. There would be no worries about the "long term impact" if people weren't passing around the PDF and turning the book into a phenomenon. It wouldn't be at #1. It wouldn't have a movie deal. It would just be another clever book that might work one day. Or it might not. Ask the folks who specialize in clever books. How many of them hit #1 on Amazon, ever? How many become must-buys for consumers? How many become phenomena? (Most don't. Like all other books.)


    2. It might be that, really, this is just proof positive that there's huge business in selling something that people can get for free. Oh, wait: we already knew that was true! I had an author whose ebook (a novel) was given away for free last year (it was a backlist promotion to support a new release coming out). The free Kindle edition rose to the Top Ten - and, simultaneously, the PAID Kindle edition of the same book was in the Top 100. This would seem impossible, but yet it's not. People were paying for a book they could get for free. In the same format, providing the identical reading experience.


    3. Even if you don't believe - and you should - that free can drive demand if it catches fire, in this particular case, the PDF is NOT the thing itself. It's a PDF. This book is funny. You want to have a copy if you've read the PDF (I have, and I do!). You want to share it with your friends over dinner. You want to hold it. It's a book, through and through - in the "object" sense of a book. So many of the people who've already read it are buying the physical book, because they want the real thing, the lasting expression of the experience, the object that is the thing itself.


    Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think giving books away is the answer for our industry. I'm not generally a fan, but that's because I don't think free works unless it works. Tautological, I know, but it's obvious enough that for something to gain tremendous value from free, it needs to be something that can go viral. Go the F*** to Sleep is exactly that, and whatever marketing genius decided to press send on the unencrypted PDF deserves a prize. Because free made this, and we'd do well not to wring our hands over success.


  • 06 May 2011 12:59 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    As we all meet at the many International Book Fairs, the conversations invariably go to e-rights. While the US is now facing close to 50% sales for many new books in e-book sales and the ones in the other English speaking countries are nipping at our heals, the translation conversation internationally is quite different.

    Our conversations revolve, not on the sales of now, but the potential ones of the future. Why, we then ask, should we grant you rights now? Many answer that they need the rights to be able to prevent piracy. Without this right, they have no legal basis to fight the e-pirates. With it they can both send cease and desist letters as well as provide a legitimate version of sought after content. But what if your country is one of the leading sites of the pirates? This question gives pause.

    A number of countries including Spain, Brazil and Italy are trying to create a consortium of publishers who will then create and distribute out their content. They have interesting terms that restrict how low they can price their books - hoping to avoid the price precipices we have fallen off in English speaking countries. Whether these groups will be successful in administering this endeavor is to be seen.

    Many EU countries face higher taxes for e-books as opposed to print books and are trying to pass laws to protect e-books like they do print. The country passes the law and the EU declares it invalid. The war is not over.

    Another big question is, as you can imagine, about rates. The US publishers have been so public about their e-book royalty standard of 25% that many countries will start there. One option we could be suggesting to break the 25% logjam are escalators. Why not? We have them for print books. And we know already where those tiny figures on sales can get to very quickly. Yes, you do not have the content right now to interest the average reader in your country, but, there will be a tipping point (Thanks Mr. Gladwell) and then sales can skyrocket. We need to be prepared.

    We, as US agents are in a unique position. We have seen our e-book market grow from a speck to half our business. The International community is looking at our successes and mistakes and is trying to do it better. Now is the time to help them create standards that we know can stand the tests of time and, most importantly, growth in the market.
  • 24 Feb 2011 12:53 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    Welcome to AARdvark, a new blog created by the digital rights committee of the AAR.

    When our committee was created a few years ago, it became clear quite quickly that the question of 'digital rights' was too much to grapple with. There is no publishing these days that is NOT somehow digital, and everything we touch is impacted by the digital changes wracking the industry. We realized that often we were asked to look into issues that coincided with the contracts committee, or the foreign committee, or the royalties committee. Our role wasn't congealing.

    So we switched gears and realized what we needed to do was to try to stay on the cutting edge of what was happening and help educate the membership by bringing information on the changing landscape to the attention of the membership-and we did that by pulling together several very provocative and well-attended panels that have run over the last couple of years, at AAR monthly meetings and at BEA.

    And now, appropriately enough, we think its time to take that role into a digital arena. Of course, no question, there is a LOT of information in the media and online about electronic publishing. Arguably, there is too much. What we would like to do with this blog is to call to your attention the writing in the media that we think is worth paying attention to (and we will let you know if we think that's because the POV is particularly RIGHT or WRONG)- and to weigh in on why some issues may have particular impact on our businesses and our clients.

    It seems to us that much of the coverage in the media is about how the changes in the industry affect publishers and booksellers, and shockingly little about how it affects authors.

    The members of the committee, listed in the right hand column, will be weighing in with their personal opinions on many issues of interest to them; and will be posting links to articles of interest posted elsewhere.

    This site cannot accept comments, but we hope AAR members and other interested parties will continue the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #aardvark. And of course, please reach out to any of the committee members with questions, comments, or ideas.

    Brian DeFiore
    Chair, Digital Rights Committee
    AAR Board Member
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