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
    jameshogg (profile), 3 Apr 2013 @ 5:55am

    I hate how copyright sets up gates in the middle of fields, and demands everybody walks through them.

    It is the mere existence of the unnecessary gates that cause gatekeeperism, which in this case is the ability to hold onto not just a monopoly but THOUSANDS of monopolies, because each separate copyrighted work has monopolistic traits at least (you often hear how it is not a true monopoly because intellectual property is not physical - this is often claimed by those who cherry-pick when IP should and should not be treated as physical property whenever it suits them, creating a sense of unfalsifiability around copyright as a whole).

    Why should it be possible for an organisation to hold the keys to someone else's gate anyway? How is it possible for an artist to be locked out of the rights to his own works in a world that claims this is in his best interests? Either the works "belong" to the artists or they do not. How can companies get away with taking what is apparently an inalienable right from artists? Quite simply: because they can. Because there is a buck of power that shouldn't be existing in the first place - and it is being passed around out of the hands of the artists and high up towards those who are in the best position to make the best of monopolies.

    Intellectual property in the philosophical sense of "life, liberty and property" may indeed exist, but it definitely does not in the physical sense - because the philosophical meaning of property has two types: goods and services. Creativity is a service, and should be treated as such. Treating creativity as goods instead of services is ultimately dangerous to the artists - no other service that I know of is objectified in this way.

    Treat creativity as services, and the rights of artists cannot possibly be trespassed on as much as they are now.

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