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IPG: Indies urged to keep focus on adapatability
01.01.70 | Catherine Neilan
Smaller publishers should make the most of their size in adapting to the changes being ushered in by the digital age, according to Peter Mayer of Duckworth and Overlook Press.
Mayer, who was the chief executive of Penguin for nearly 20 years before founding the indie Overlook, told delegates at the weekend's IPG conference that current problems "almost certainly are most critically encountered by the larger companies". He singled out contracts as one area in particular where indies could have the upper hand.
"As conditions change, so must contracts, and as fewer of our books are agented, it may be somewhat easier for us to adapt them than it is for larger publishers," Mayer said in the opening address on Saturday morning (20th March). "Agents usually have a particular concern for precedents as what may make sense for a small publisher can be an awkward precedent for an agent marketing bestsellers or celebrity authors."
He added: "We should be able to explain both our problems and our opportunities - and the author’s opportunities - by approaching contracts in a different way. Larger publishers who overwhelmingly deal with agents – especially those with many authors – may get stonewalled on legitimate arguments by the largest agents who represent everything from estates to bestselling authors."
In particular, Mayer suggested employing different royalty rates according to the size of the advance, describing them as "a moveable feast". He warned against accepting a standard rate for e-books as well as print copies.
"Aren’t advances, royalties, terms, thresholds like keys on the piano, keys to be played, alongside the pedals?" Mayer said. "We need to be creative in what we publish but also how we publish it, now more than ever, as e-books advance... Where did a god with letters of fire define anything? So much is fungible, but it is smaller, independent publishers who can most easily look upon these matters differently, and should."