The escalating costs of fighting piracy and the need to recruit experts from outside the publishing sector are among the reasons publishers are resisting increasing royalty rates on digital books, delegates at the London Book Fair's digital conference heard.
In a discussion on how publishers could continue to add value to authors in the digital age, Little, Brown publisher David Shelley warned an e-book could be as easily pirated as an MP3 and publishers had to invest in technology and expertise in order to defeat the pirates. He said these "unknown" costs would replace the costs removed as publishers printed fewer books and sold more in digital.
He said: "Money spent on print and paper will be spent on specialists to fight piracy and that is a team of many people. Piracy websites are proliferating, and we are scanning the entire web, and investing in software too. The costs of this are only getting more expensive, and could spiral way out of control. There are also legal costs, when sites refuse to take down content."
Referring to Barry Eisler, who recently rejected a major publishing deal in order to self-publish, Shelley added: "As an industry we can do this, Eisler on his own can't."
However, Shelley's argument was rejected by author Lisa Gee, who draw a round of applause from the audience when she said that as an author she wasn't scared of piracy. But Shelley responded: "A certain amount of fear is healthy for us, if not for you."
Agent Brian DeFiore described the affirmative buzz around Eisler's decision to reject a publishing deal as "troublesome and problematic" for the industry, adding that for the first time publishers had to "justify" themselves. He advised publishers to get back to what they have always done best: market books well; curate good content; pay authors better; and give better editorial help to authors.
On costs, DeFiore said it didn't stack up that publishers were receiving less under the agency model, when their costs of production decreased on digital books. But Shelley said that the "actual printing of books is a tiny part of what we do as publishers", pointing to replacement costs such as maintaining meta-data and bringing in new marketing skills from outside the industry.
In a further discussion at the The Digital Now: Creating Lasting Value conference, Bloomsbury's Evan Schnittman called time on enhanced e-books for fiction.