So John Locke, the million-plus e-book-selling self-publishing poster boy, has signed a deal with Simon & Schuster US. This is a few months after Amanda Hocking, self-publishing's poster girl, signed on the dotted line with Pan Macmillan for a four-book contract.
Yet unlike Hocking's more traditional publishing deal, Locke's is an interesting model. S&S is handling distribution and sales for the print version of Locke's Donovan Creed series—under the imprint John Locke Books—and the author will still self-publish e-books, retaining the 70% rate Kindle authors get from Amazon.
S&S is keeping schtum, as might be expected, on the exact details on the print side, but it would be interesting to see what sort of royalty rate Locke negotiated for print.
This is clearly win-win for Locke; his market is in digital and if he gets any other revenue for print it is a bonus (another bonus is that S&S' design department might help him with his horrid jackets viz: http://lethalbooks.com).
For S&S, it is surely a gamble. One of the major reasons Locke's books sell is because he prices them cheap at $0.99 (49p); S&S must be thinking hard about the size of the print runs and the right price point. US mass-market paperbacks are generally priced around $8.99, which may be a bit too steep for Locke's fan base.
And, of course, S&S is splitting print and digital rights here. Yes, it is with an author not previously on its books, and S&S could rightly argue that Locke is a special case. But this has probably made a lot of agents and authors sit bolt upright, with visions of a far bigger slice of the digital pie dancing in their heads. I would hesitate to say it is a precedent-setting moment, but when a major US player splits rights, at a time when digital royalty rates seem to be creeping upwards, it certainly gives authors and agents a bit more ammunition.
In a comment thread on our story on Graham Swift's view of digital royalty rates, CHERUB author Robert Muchamore posted an interesting comment on publishers' holding the 25% royalty line (one that probably made the folks at Hachette Children's Books blanch slightly), arguing that a 70% royalty on a £2.99 e-book would make more money than most authors see on a £12.99 hardback.
He concluded: "Mainstream fiction publishers are in the same position as Polaroid instant photography was when digital cameras came to the market. Some will survive, by slimming down and aggressively pitching their editorial and marketing skills to authors. But publishers who assume that they can offer low e-book royalties will see their big brand authors walking out the door as soon as the e-book market reaches critical mass."
S&S' deal with Locke might have brought that day when big brand authors walk out ever so much closer.