Agent pushes 50% digital book royalty

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Reading a digital bookPublishers should be paying the authors of digital books a royalty of 50% – double the 25% rate many leading book firms are trying to establish as the industry standard. That's the view of leading literary agent Andrew Wylie, who also said agents should not try to strike deals with authors which split royalties 50:50, saying that one of the appeals of digital publishing was that authors should make more money, not agents.

Discussion over digital royalty rates has been a strong theme at the Frankfurt Book Fair, from where Wylie made his remarks to industry bible The Bookseller. The Fair is the biggest global event in the publishing world and the picture emerging seems to be that the attempt to establish a 25% norm is slipping.

A number of agents speaking at the event said they had negotiated rates of above 25% for their authors, and they urged to publishing industry approach digital negotiations in a more informed way. Attempting to impose the old model on this new environment would not work and would marginalise publishers, they said.

Digital shakeout

Wylie reckons that as the "digital shakeout" settles down, publishers would realise both that digital offered a more profitable means of publishing, and that more of that profit should go to the author. He also said that digital distributors should not be charging 30% to distribute content.

"It will become obvious that a higher digital royalty is appropriate. It is happening a little now and it will come to be the norm," said Wylie. He said it was predictable that publishers were careful about how they covered their costs during the transition period but that the time was coming for new realities to be embraced.

Harper Collins

But Harper Collins CEO Brian Murray said that authors would benefit from increasing pricing on digital content, rather than the raising of royalty rates. He agreed publishers could afford to pay more than the traditional 10-16% royalty paid to print authors, but said they could also sell "additional value" for a higher price.

The book industry is just one part of the media industry struggling to get to grips with the new realities of the digital world. The concern for many in the trade is that the very real benefits experienced publishers can offer authors and consumers could be swept aside if publishers do not recognise that squeezing royalties will fuel direct publishing.

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