Here are an interesting juxtaposition of posts that just came to light today. In the first, Kristine Kathryn Rusch at last returns to blogging about the publishing industry with an end-of-year post that is both interesting and scary. Last year, I wrote an open letter asking the Big Five publishers if they’d learned anything from the Apple verdict. In her new blog post, Rusch suggests that they have, and it might not be good news for the authors who sign with them.

Touching once more on the sales problems inherent in publishers no longer being able to schedule book launches cooperatively since the Department of Justice’s eye is on them, Rusch notes they’ve also lost sales to the increased competition from self-published and rights-reverted republished works in e-bookstores.

This, combined with the fact that e-books have a very low marginal cost, has finally drawn publishers to consider reducing their reliance on blockbusters and advertising, and instead farm the long tail with a vengeance. They’re finally starting to get over trying to “protect” print books from e-books, and think about how they can make money from those e-books instead. This could be good news for consumers if they decide to adopt more reasonable pricing and actually try to sell e-books, instead of pricing them out of most people’s range.

The problem for authors here is that it means that the publishers are going to start focusing on holding onto the rights to all backlist titles they possibly can. keeping them perpetually “in print” as e-books, and grabbing up as many rights as possible (both to the books, and to ancillary rights such as merchandising) in their contracts. Any writers thinking of signing with a traditional publisher, Rusch warns, should read and think carefully before they sign away rights that they may never be able to get back.

The other bit of interesting news comes in the form of another John Sargent announcement posted to Once again, does not bother to explain why they are posting a PR notice from John Sargent addressed “Dear Authors, Illustrators, and Agents” to a pop-culture blog that supposedly has no ties to Tor-the-publisher despite their sharing the same name and a number of staff. They also disable comments. (And there’s not even the pretense of an official Macmillan blog where people can post replies anymore; the “Macmillan Speaks” blog has been taken down entirely.) Oh well, at least they didn’t sticky it this time.

The gist of the announcement is that Macmillan reached a new “multi-year” agency pricing agreement with Amazon last week, as the consent decree preventing Macmillan from renegotiating expires today. Sargent is grumpy that the separate consent decree on Apple restricts it from agency-pricing e-books until October 5, 2017, meaning that it will still be able to discount e-books if it wants to until then.

Consequently, Sargent explains, Macmillan may need to adjust the prices of its e-books every now and then. Authors’ percentage of revenue on the books will not be affected, but that percentage will of course be affected by the price.

Then comes an odd bit of prose in which Sargent seems to compliment Amazon. (Certainly a different tune than he was singing a few years ago! I guess signing a contract requires you to say nice things about your business partner.)

In reaching agreement with Amazon, we have not addressed one of the big problems in the digital marketplace. Through great innovation and prodigious amounts of risk and hard work, Amazon holds a 64% market share of Macmillan’s e-book business. As publishers, authors, illustrators, and agents, we need broader channels to reach our readers.

After which he explains Macmillan is going to look into testing the subscription e-book waters by placing backlist books and “titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores” with some pay-per-read e-book subscription providers.

As comments are disabled on the post, it’s hard to see what readers there think of it. However, readers of The Passive Voice are notably skeptical. They express the belief that subscription service payments will be tiny, and there may not be anything authors who have signed contracts with Tor can do if they don’t want their books in the program. Likewise, there won’t be much authors can do if Apple decides to discount their books (and hence Amazon follows suit) except grin and bear the lower royalties. Again, this ties in with what Kristine Kathryn Rusch said about publishers starting to exploit their backlists.

So, that’s a third publisher reaching an agency deal with Amazon in the space of just a couple of months. I guess bargaining with Amazon isn’t really all that hard after all! It’s also interesting to see Macmillan actually is on board with the idea of trying new things, Perhaps Rusch is right; publishers are starting to learn things. It will be interesting to see how that affects e-book pricing and availability for consumers from here on out.


  1. A bit off on a tangent, but germane to the mid-list/back-list argument:

    I read a synopsis of the book “Log of the Molly Brown” and thought that was something I would find interesting. “Log of the Molly Brown was written about 1973, sold moderately well, went through a second edition, and then dropped off the radar. The author died a few years back. The book is out of print, but used copies are readily available for one cent plus $3.99 shipping.

    I was agreeable to paying $4.00 for the book, bought it and enjoyed it. I would have preferred to pay $4.00 for an ebook, but none was available.

    As I see it, the owner of the copyright could sell this as an ebook and get $4.00 minus a tiny amount for production, and share it with the author’s estate, or the used book seller could get next to nothing for it and the USPS would make a couple dollars. I’m fairly indifferent, but I really would rather have the ebook.

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