Monday, July 26, 2010

E-merging Markets a Boon for 20th Century Writers

With all the controversy about e-book readers and the Kindle (including accusations that the e-book has killed numerous bookstores) most authors look at e-books as a 'gravy' sales item. The numbers are hard to come by – but the estimates say there are 3 million Kindles and several million smart phones with applets that allow people to read e-books on their cell phone.

E-books are currently just a niche market for genre books and independent authors who are brave enough to self-publish. If you have the sales volume of a J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers – e-book sales would be chump change.

However, there is a genre left out – deliberately, perhaps? – of the e-book market – modern literature. The heavy hitting writers of the 20th century: Updike, Rushdie, Bellow, Ellison, Mailer and Nabokov; writers didn't have e-rights mentioned in their contracts.

These guys aren't genre writers who kick out a book every few months. They live on royalties for book sales. If they are lucky, it's 25% of the discounted price, minus all the charges taken from the book's gross. Bookstores, returns, warehouses, publishers and agents all get their cut before any money goes to the writer. They must take out taxes, insurance and pay monthly bills but only get paid once or twice a year.

I bet some of them are badly pressed for cash.

Enter Wylie (E. Coyote) Agency, home for 700 of the world's best selling literary writers and e-publishing company Odyssey Editions. Wylie (E. Coyote) started Odyssey to get his stable of the 20th century's finest a piece of the 21st century action.

Guess who is screaming bloody murder?

Random House expects them to starve like good little artists, instead of cashing in on a niche market that just might pay some bills. When gave e-books a 70% royalty (for those between $2.99 and $9.99) paid monthly, they handed writers the opportunity to finally make a living at writing.

Of course there is still the question of payment. Will the 20th centuries finest get a monthly pay check – or will Wylie (E. Coyote) keep them to twice a year? Logically all the money will go to Odyssey Editions on a monthly basis, while the writer's are left with a cut, minus their agent's cut, of the profits.

The coyote's share is going to be a lot bigger than the writer's share.

Too bad they didn't post their e-books on their own.


Melanie Walsh said...

It certainly has been interesting to read the responses from Random House, Harper etc to this 'threat' to their world domination. I expect Wylie will cave in, unfortunately as it would otherwise be even more interesting to watch a David v Goliath publishing battle on yet another front.

Great post!

Ms Kitty said...

I don't think that Wylie (E. Coyote) is going to cave.

There is enough money in e-books, even as a niche market, to make it lucrative for him to stick it out.

This agency is filling a need in a market that has been neglected. I wouldn't buy a copy of any of those books for $26 in a hardback.

But as an e-book for $9.99 I would seriously think about it. There is something about reading an e-book that is different. I don't want to fill it with fluff - I want some serious reading, things that aren't available where I live.

I've bought a copy of "The Nation" - something I've heard of, but never read. A subscription is $1.49 but it's $1.99 for a single copy.

I picked up "Wind in the Willows" because it was free. Never read that either.

If I could get a deal on "Rabbit Run" I'd buy it - just to see what the fuss is about. If they give free sample chapters, I might invest in a few.

I'm thinking that Goliath's days may be numbered. The 21st century economy does not appear to support giants.

Ms Kitty said...

Wow! Wylie just threatened to e-publish 2k titles!

At $6.99 royalty per $9.99 download sold he's going to make a freaking killing!

Just the 20 titles can make $2 million a quarter (at 1000 d/l per title per week) - what will he make with 2k titles? I can't get my head around that many zeros. I think he's looking a 4 billion a year?

My head hurts just thinking about all that money.

No wonder he's telling Random House to go f@ck themselves!