Wherefore royalties?

      6 Comments on Wherefore royalties?

Your Humble Blogger came across Why Royalties? a blognote by Evan Schnittman, who is Vice President of Business Development and Rights for the Academic and USA Divisions of Oxford University Press. He is responding to Richard Charken, CEO of Macmillan (UK), who wrote a blognote called Royalties.

I know just enough about the publishing business to be completely baffled by it. I don’t understand how publishers, booksellers, writers, printers or distributors stay in business. “The state of book publishing requires a radical change to the standard business practices that have existed for decades,” Mr. Schnittman says, but surely there are no standard business practices that have existed for decades. Or if there are, during the whole time that patterns and costs of printing, distribution, and marketing have changed, then the economics of publishing are even stranger than I had previously imagined. Which is a lot, indeed.

As for royalties, I have very little to suggest about them. This business of gross revenue versus per-book price, and the cover price shenanigans, and the kicker with the escalator all seems like complication derived from complications introduced into the system. Mr. Charkin complains that the royalty is a “percentage [of the list price ] ... which applies in only a minority of cases. It doesn't apply to all sales overseas; it doesn't apply to nearly all sales made in supermarkets, Internet bookshops and many bookshop chains. Macmillan wants to “simplify our royalty system without compromising its accuracy and reliablity.” But what is difficult about giving the author an agreed-upon number of pennies for each book sold, that number based on the list price? The answer is not figuring out, from the number of books sold at various discounts, how much the author is due, because the various discounts make no difference in that formula. No, the answer is figuring out how to project (and therefore maximize) profits, with the various discounts failing to interact easily with the standard formula.

It’s an accounting problem. Which would lead me to just claim that it’s all bull and a yard wide, except that accounting is, in fact, a necessary and proper part of doing business. So I’m back to having nothing. Gentle Readers, what do you have?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

6 thoughts on “Wherefore royalties?

  1. hapa

    books are free.

    all authors get paid by a tax on reading glasses and comfortable chairs.

    all publishers get paid by a tax on television revenue.

  2. Michael

    Some separate points:

    It’s amusing to see an academic publisher telling a trade publisher how to set royalty terms, as if the two industries were remotely related.

    I pay royalties as a percentage of net sales in terms of dollars received, not in terms of copies shipped or dollars that the end customer pays to someone else. That seems pretty simple to me. I tell authors how many copies have sold as well, since that seems like good information for them to have.

    Authors will always believe the publisher is cheating them. Publishers will always believe they are overpaying authors for content. Readers will always believe that authors are getting rich. (Odd sub-case due to bookstore propaganda: college students will always believe that publishers are getting rich.)

  3. Matt Hulan

    Oddly, it’s not the authors OR the publishers that are getting rich by gaming the system, it’s the copy editing contractors. The good news, for me, is that my wife is a copy editing contractor, and so I drive a Lotus, she drives an Audi, and our son drives a Caddy.

    Now, if I can break into the authoring world, I will finally be able to hold my head up high next to my copy editing wife and take my piece of the vast publishing industry pie!


    PS Does anyone else find themselves adjusting their grammar for embedded HTML tags – it was really hard for me not to say AN Lotus, since the A tag starts, after all, with an A… Just curious…

  4. Matt Hulan

    I’m telling you, man. Copy editing contractors are the cogs that keep the machine running. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if people thought, say, Thomas Pynchon didn’t know how to use a possessive apostrophe with the pronoun ‘it?’


    hapa: The tagless tag is a tag not worth tagging.

    Michael: Out of curiosity, are you implying that the car in that photo is your car, your copy-editing contractor’s car, or the old, abandoned car in which you hide the bodies of overpaid copy editing contractors?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.