The Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon has called on publishers to adhere to a seven-step plan to ensure that special sales or “ultra-high” discounted sales do not damage authors’ overall earnings or the market for full-price sales.
Solomon makes her case in an open letter published on The Bookseller website.
Special sales deals are often struck with non-traditional outlets such as The Book People and The Works, which retail titles at high discounts and offer lower financial returns for authors per book than sales through more traditional channels. The SoA is campaigning for authors to have the right of approval over special sales, for such sales to have separate ISBNs and be recorded on Nielsen Bookscan, and for publishers to monitor more closely how discounted books are distributed.
Solomon said that discounted books sometimes end up competing directly with full priced titles in certain outlets, for example, discounted books selling on Amazon Marketplace are listed alongside the full price copies.
She also said that special sales income for authors is usually based on the money received by the publisher, not the cover price, so authors can earn “far less (sometimes nothing)” from such sales. She added that in some contracts where royalties are based on net receipts, the percentage rate payable to the author reduces when the discount increases. She slammed this practise as “simply illogical” and “unfair to the author”.
Further discussing the potentially detrimental effects of special sales, Solomon said that as special sales are not recorded by Nielsen Bookscan and they don’t appear in official public sales figures, this can do damage to an author’s career as publishers will typically look at previous sales figures when deciding whether to commission another book. She added that seeing books for sale so cheaply can affect full price sales by damaging the perceived value of books and the price that readers expect to pay for them. “If an author is associated too often with bargain books, it could damage their professional brand”, she said.
To combat this, Solomon proposed that publishers give authors a right of approval over ever special sales deal. “Discounting is sometimes a valid strategy and publishers risk losing as much as the author if those deals cannibalise conventional sales. But an author usually only has a handful of books from which to earn, while publishers have many, so an author is more at risk if the strategy does not work. A publisher should always explain the reasons why it wants to do a deal, the likely receipts for the publisher and author, and the likely impact on traditional sales.”
The Society of Authors is also encourging publisher to differentiate special sales editions from the full-price editions, monitor them closely and follow up suspicious sales on Amazon and to include special sales figures in their records of a work’s lifetime sales.