Publishers are not taking a disproportionate amount of profit from book sales, Little, Brown’s c.e.o. Ursula Mackenzie has said, and it is important that they remain healthy.
Speaking at a Society of Authors (SoA) panel on hybrid authors, Mackenzie defended publishers from criticism by audience members that they now only take on books that will make money.
“Every book can’t make money,” she said. “There are careers we support for years…there are many books we publish lovingly where we don’t make money.”
Mackenzie said that publishers “are not taking a disproportionate part of the profit”, and that “no one benefits if publishers go out of business”.
Little, Brown has a “fair rate for our e-books”, said Mackenzie, although fellow panellist Lizzy Kremer, literary agent and head of the books department at David Higham Associates, said that e-book royalty rates were not satisfactory.
“We don’t think the royalty rate is high enough, but we fought tooth and nail to get it that high,” said Kremer.
Most authors published by traditional publishing houses earn a royalty rate of 25% from digital books.
The panel, which included author Ed James, who has self-published and has now signed a deal with Amazon Publishing imprint Thomas and Mercer, and was chaired by The Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones, also discussed e-book prices.
Kremer said one of the benefits of self-publishing was the access to data, which means that self-published authors could easily change the prices of their books to boost sales.
“The benefit of being able to check your sales data is you can adjust your price, you can experiment,” she said.
James said he had decided to make his first book free after self-publishing it on Kindle, resulting in an increase in downloads, which he could track. The increase in free downloads then led to an increase in purchases of James' novels from the rest of his crime series.
Mackenzie said the increase in self-publishing had resulted in publishers having to justify and explain their roles, echoing a speech she gave to the Society of Young Publishers (SYP), and said that one of the results was that publishers were “all developing author portals” to provide writers and agents with data.
On pay, traditionally published authors are “accustomed” to being paid royalties twice a year, said Kremer, which is the “pay off” of being paid an advance. James said one of the benefits of self-publishing was the regular royalty payments.
Mackenzie said a “big, big infrastructure change” would be needed to change the payments system, a change which could not be made quickly.
The panel was questioned on what it thought were the reasons for the drop in salary for professional authors, which was £11,000 in 2013, down from £12,330, according to the Authors Licensing' and Collecting Society.
Mackenzie said the decrease in retailers could have contributed to the drop, as some books “have struggled much harder than others”.
She also said the prominence of some big books meant readers were buying a narrower range.
“The effect of the internet and social media gives extraordinary oxygen to the thing that everyone wants to be reading,” she said. “So the big books have got bigger, and the smaller books have got smaller.”