Friday, July 16, 2010

Hey, Evan Schnittman!

Let me start by saying that I am second to none in my respect for Evan Schnittman.

If you're not familiar with the name, until very recently Schnittman was the vice president of global business development for Oxford University Press. Earlier this month, Publishers Marketplace reported that Schnittman was joining "Bloomsbury in [the] newly-created position of managing director, group sales and marketing, print and digital, starting August 2."

I've mentioned Schnittman on this blog several times. On March 22 here, I said: "I was enormously impressed by Evan Schnittman's grasp of the industry. I've added his press' blog to my list of blogs-to-read."

Schnittman also has a personal blog called BlackPlasticGlasses where he's been conspicuously absent for the last couple of months. Perhaps to celebrate his new position, he posted to that blog yesterday here.

His blog is in response to the recent comments made in Great Britain that authors should seek a 50/50 split on e-book royalties. See my blog on Wednesday here for that story.

Let me start by saying that I am not arguing for a 50/50 e-book royalty split. I am merely responding to Schittman's comments.

Schnittman believes that you can't separate the e-book from the "overall" book. He says: "Viewing the ebook out of the context of the rest of the work gets us nowhere."

While I don't disagree with that view, I think his post presents a remarkably publisher-centric view of the situation. It is THAT approach which I am commenting upon.

The first point he makes is that an e-book does not fall under the purview of subsidy rights in which new works are licensed. He points out that subsidy rights (which do get a 50/50 split) "enable the publisher to license the work to a third party for the purpose of that party creating a new work." Since an e-book is not a new work, by definition, it doesn't fall under subsidy rights.

Okay. But, let's face it. That argument applies to existing contracts where the e-book rights are already defined and determined. Who's to say that the current groundswell of dissatisfaction among authors might not result in a different future contract with some kind of exceptional treatment for the e-book?

I'm not recommending that course of action. I'm merely pointing out that you can't argue an e-book's definition in contracts that have not yet been written.

Schnittman goes on to say:
Is there a new willingness to explore new models and new ways of doing business? A new scheme that replaces high advances with high royalties? The answer is, of course, NO WAY! The advances on new books are as immutable as ever and one would be laughed out of contention for any book where such a trade-off is proposed.
This is where I really have a problem with Schnittman's post. He says that authors (or their representatives) are taking a "win at all cost negotiation" stance.

That's a lot of baloney. It completely ignores the reality of recent history. Writers have been asking about higher e-book royalties for several years. I know I questioned my agent about it in 2006 when I signed my first contract with a Big Six publisher.

The Big Six flatly refused to consider a higher e-book royalty. I actually believe they did everything they could to slow down the growth of the e-book market even while they built their digital warehouses. Remember that Big Six publisher who priced the e-book HIGHER than the price of the trade paper version? Remember the argument that they hardly saved any money at all when releasing e-books despite lack of printing, shipping and warehousing costs?

e-Book royalties climbed to the present 25% standard when publishers realized they had no choice, not because they were being reasonable and striving for a win-win with authors.

My final problem with Schnittman's post was his statement that the practice of separating the rights for the e-book from the rights for the print book creates problems:
The net result of this practice is that no one can create anywhere near a coherent marketing and publicity program for trade books as no one knows who owns what. Furthermore, it is impossible to align efforts, as competing publishers often own different portions of rights to the same work. It’s the authors who suffer in the end.
I'm sure that statement is true for Janet Evanovich or James Patterson, but the vast majority of authors are not getting a lot of marketing or publicity from their publishers. I'm not knocking the efforts of sales reps visiting bookstores; those guys ain't pushing e-books. I'm saying most authors get table models of their covers, bookmarks and books shipped to bookstores for the signings they've arranged for themselves--not a "coherent marketing and publicity program."

I have enormous respect for Evan Schnittman. I've learned a lot from his comments on panels or his quotes in the press. As I said earlier, I'm not arguing that royalties should climb to 50%. I'm certainly not arguing against publishers and authors getting together to develop a new model. I am, however, saying that the first part of understanding another person's viewpoint is to think outside the box of your own viewpoint.

On Monday, I'll try to return the favor ... with advice for publishers.


Evan said...

Dear Maya:

First, thanks for the accolades and teh criticism. I try to be as fair as possible when writing on my blog - so criticism is often more helpful than compliments.

I appreciate that my blog post came off as wildly publisher centric - it was intended that way as the arguments going the other way, have been so absurdly unabashedly greedy, there was no middle ground to be found.

That said, I am very open to all forms of models and manners that publishers can look at ebooks, but a closer examination of what it would mean to allow them to become secondary rights would be very bad for authors. Imagine one arm of a company licensing the work to another arm for 10% of its value then keeping 95% (90% free, 10% split 50/50.) Sub-rights would be a disaster for authors.

As to coordinating rights for a work - this is all about marketing. You should see the territory wars that erupt when rights are split between publishers!!! No one helps each other because they ONLY have a small share they can work with so the author suffers in the end because there is no incentive for publishers to cooperate.

Thanks again for reading my blog and for teh link, i shall return the favor!


Maya Reynolds said...

Hi, Evan: Thank for visiting my blog and for leaving a comment.

I was not advocating making e-books subsidiary rights nor for deconstructing books. I was responding to the absurdly, unabashedly greedy behavior on the part of publishers.

As e-book readers become the norm rather than the exception, I think both sides will settle down and begin to negotiate more reasonably ... at least I hope so.

I'll continue to follow your career and your blog with great interest.