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Successful Self-Published Ebook Authors Sells Print & Movie Rights For $1 Million, But Keeps Digital Rights To Himself

from the it's-all-about-the-leverage dept

We've pointed out time and time again that there are still roles for the former gatekeepers in various content industries, but those roles are changing, because they now need to be enablers, helping to do things that content creators can't do on their own. We've also pointed out that one thing that "direct to fan" and other offerings have done is give content creators much more leverage in dealing with those traditional gatekeepers. It used to be, if you were a first time author, you didn't have very much leverage at all. You accepted the tiny advance and crappy book deal offered to you, in which the publisher basically took control over your work almost entirely, leaving a tiny royalty for you should you ever earn back the advance. However, the WSJ recently wrote about how self-publsihed ebook author Hugh Howey (who wrote the hugely popular Wool "postapocalyptic thriller" and sold half a million ebook copies) then sold the print rights to the book to Simon & Schuster and the movie rights to Ridley Scott for around $1 million but was able to retain the digital rights to the book for himself.

That is how leverage works. It's also a recognition of where a publisher can actually help. Howey knows that he can sell the digital book himself. He doesn't need any help with digital production, distribution or promotion. However, the physical book is a very different story, so having a big publisher handle printing and distribution for the physical book makes sense -- and given the fact he didn't need the help of a publisher, he was able to negotiate this more equitable deal. He notes that other publishers offered more money for a complete package, but it was easy to walk away, knowing he was making plenty of money on his own directly with the ebooks.

As the WSJ notes, it's all about the shifting balance of power, such that publishers no longer hold all the cards:
It's a sign of how far the balance of power has shifted toward authors in the new digital publishing landscape. Self-published titles made up 25% of the top-selling books on Amazon last year. Four independent authors have sold more than a million Kindle copies of their books, and 23 have sold more than 250,000, according to Amazon.

Publishing houses that once ignored independent authors are now furiously courting them. In the past year, more than 60 independent authors have landed contracts with traditional publishers. Several won seven-figure advances. A handful have negotiated deals that allow them to continue selling e-books on their own, including romance writers Bella Andre and Colleen Hoover, who have each sold more than a million copies of their books.
Simon & Schuster even admits that it wanted all of the rights, but that under these "unusual circumstances" it had no other choice. I get the feeling those "circumstances" will become less and less "unusual" going forward.

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  1. icon
    Anonymous Howard (profile), 3 Apr 2013 @ 4:40am

    Copying digital data is practically effortless now.
    People must realize that they're free to leave out industries that used to do the replication, and keep only the essential ones, like the "recording studio" of recording labels, etc.

    For example, the release of a new song should be look like this:
    Artist rent a recording studio for a few days (weeks?). Artist record the song in the studio. Artist publish the song himself on youtube/itunes/whatever, and keep every right in the process, keeps the profits for himself, and pay the "old gatekeeper" only what is due: rent for equipment.

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