E-book “Sales” and Splits

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July 2011
by Curt Matthews & Mike Shatzkin

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In “Why You Can’t Actually Sell an E-book” (May), Mike Shatzkin argues that e-books are really licenses rather than physical objects, and should therefore be treated like the other license-like elements typically found in a publisher/author agreement—serial rights, book clubs, paperbacks (I assume Shatzkin means mass market paperbacks), and so forth. He certainly is right that an e-book is really “a license to access a digital file” and not a thing that gives its owner the right to “lend, give, or resell” to others as with physical books.

But I think he is wrong to say that the publisher/author split should therefore be more like the split typical of other licensed rights in a publishing agreement. To understand what is wrong with his notion, a place to start is with another license-like element in many publishing agreements: movie rights. An author with any bargaining power can usually keep all the movie income. Publishers don’t like this, but the truth is that a book is just a starting point for a movie. Millions will be spent before the film is in the can.

An e-book, on the other hand, is the book word-for-word or an “enhanced” e-book, which is still the whole book but with some fancy stuff added. Every one of those words wil…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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