Michael Chabon Challenges Publishers On Digital Royalties

By Dianna Dilworth Comment

Many of Michael Chabon‘s books are coming out as eBooks over the next year, and the author has mixed feelings about the royalties that he is being paid for the digital editions.

The author told The AP that he likes the 50/50 cut he’ll be taking from Open Road Integrated Media, who just published five of the author’s backlist titles digitally including Wonder Boys and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

However, he doesn’t think that his deal with his traditional print publishers — which include Random House and HarperCollins — is as fair. He told The Washington Post: “I agreed to the traditional e-book royalty, which I think is criminally low, because I didn’t really have any legs to stand on … When it’s comes to royalties on a paper book, that rate (25 percent) is completely fair when you think of the expenses a publisher takes on — the delivery trucks and the factory workers and the distribution chains. But it’s not fair for them to take a roughly identical royalty for an e-book that costs them nothing to produce.”

UPDATE: Novelist John Green has added some commentary, and we decided it was worth printing his whole comment:

“Well, but this doesn’t account for the difference in price point. Like, the reason Chabon gets 25% for his hardcover royalties is because his books cost like $30. (A young adult novelist, say, gets a smaller percentage royalty, but also gets a much lower price point for an equally attractive hardcover book with the same trim size, etc.)

“But when the price goes down to $10, the publisher’s per unit return is probably pretty similar in the end with a 25% royalty. (Most of the costs of a book aren’t in shipping or any of that, anyway; most of the costs are in overhead and staffing.)

“Admittedly, the math of this stuff is complicated and I am not a mathematician, but a big part of the reason that Open Road has a different ebook structure than HarperCollins is that Open Road does not have the same costs for editors and copyeditors and marketing and publicity–and I think it’s difficult to argue those people are irrelevant or without value.”