David Gaughran on Argo Navis and Lazy Literary Agents
April 23, 2013 | 4:17 pm
By Juli Monroe
David Gaughran published a scathing article yesterday on Argo Navis Author Services and the agents who are promoting it to their clients.
I wasn’t surprised that yet another barely dressed up distribution service was attempting to convince authors to give up a ridiculous percentage for services which are little better (and arguably worse) than those offered by Smashwords. I’ve gotten used to the sudden proliferation of ways to separate authors from their royalties. I was disappointed, but hardly surprised.
According to their page, Argo Navis is “specifically for authors who control e-rights or reverted print rights, and have been published by a traditional publisher. Argo Navis is not a vanity press or a self-publishing vehicle for unpublished authors.”
Here’s the deal, according to Gaughran:
Essentially, Argo Navis is a distributor. It offers a portal through which authors’ work can be distributed to all the various retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo.
In exchange for this relatively trivial service, Argo Navis take a 30 percent cut. Yes, you read that right—30 percent. After the retailer takes their standard cut (usually also 30 percent), Argo Navis take another 30 percent before passing on payments.
No copy editing or cover art creation is included in this package. Here’s the positive spin Argo Navis put on this service (from its website):
And because the author is choosing the services and paying the upfront costs, Argo Navis can offer its exceptionally competitive revenue split. The agent/author contract outlines the specific price for each service.
I’ve got serious problems with this. Agents are supposed to look out for the best interests of their authors. Look at that author/agent contract line. That implies to me that each author is charged differently, and that each agent can negotiate a revenue split with Argo Navis. How is that good for an author?
Naturally, agents can take their percentage off the top of payments sent to them by Argo Navis, further cutting into author revenues. All sales reports are sent to the agents, not to the authors, according to Gaughran, so authors can’t even check their sales for themselves. This is so many times worse than self-publishing with something like Smashwords. Or going directly to Kindle.
All that is bad enough, but if the books were selling (because of the great marketing Argo Navis provides as part of its service), at least the authors are making something, right? Maybe not. Gaughran did some looking and found that Argo Navis books sell very few copies, with at least two books he looked at having no sales at all. I double-checked the books he linked to, and yes, two of them have sold no copies and haven’t even had their metadata set properly.
I know authors don’t want to think of themselves as business people. You just want to write and have someone else take care of all the messy details. But your books are your babies. You wouldn’t turn your kid over to a daycare that was dirty and understaffed, would you? Why give your books to someone who won’t even give them the most basic of care?