One of the rallying cries of author advocates and Amazon adversaries alike has been that publishers should start selling their books direct to the public instead of letting middle-man Amazon have so much power. Another rallying cry is that publishers should pay authors bigger royalties. Well, Publishers Weekly reports that HarperCollins is combining those two suggestions, in a way—it’s offering authors an additional 10% royalty rate if they use an affiliate link on their web site to sell their book, e-book, or audiobook from HC’s direct sale site. (The PW article isn’t clear on the math; I’m assuming this means an additional 10% on top of the 25% of net they normally get, for a total of 35%.)
This is a wise move on HC’s part as far as it goes, but there are just a couple of problems with it. First of all, if HC is acting as retailer and wholesaler, why are they only willing to jump up an author’s purchases by a paltry 10% of net (7% of gross)? If they split the 30% agency commission 50-50, that would be over twice what they’re offering as referral incentive.
If those self-same authors used an Amazon affiliate link (in the states where Amazon is still offering it) they’d get 5% of the retail price of their book, which works out to maybe half that 7% of gross, but they’d get it on anything else the consumer bought from Amazon at the same time, too—even if they decided not to buy the author’s book after all. And they’d get that commission every month as long as they did at least $10 in referral business that month, instead of every quarter as part of their royalties. And, frankly, because of the second problem, consumers would be more likely to buy from Amazon anyway.
The second problem is, HC is selling its books at the suggested retail price. (You know, the same one that Hachette’s authors are complaining Amazon is pricing their books at?) To take one example, the HC retail site hardcover/paperback/e-book prices for Partials by Dan Wells are $17.99/$9.99/$9.99. (Though they’ll throw in the e-book for $2.99 if you buy the print version, so there’s at least some savings there, but you have to order at least $49 worth of stuff to get free shipping.) On Amazon, those same prices are $14.23/$8.99/$5.69.
(HC’s front page lists sale discounts on selected books, which is nice as far as it goes, but if a customer wants a book that’s not there, they’ll probably be paying full retail.)
If HC isn’t going to split the 30% agency commission with its authors, it should at least split it with consumers and bring the prices a little closer to Amazon’s. People might be willing to pay a little more if they knew it was more directly supporting the author…but if they were willing to pay full retail, they’d be doing so already and publishers wouldn’t have any reason to be so scared of Amazon.
So, anyway, HarperCollins is dipping its toe in the water, and I wish them success as far as they can go. But they’re going to have to go farther if they seriously want to compete with Amazon.