February 4, 2010. In a letter just released by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, Sargent makes reference to discussions with the Authors Guild over Macmillan’s e-book royalty structure. As you know, we criticized Macmillan in October over its proposed new e-book royalty rate of 20% of receipts.
In our discussions, Sargent agreed to "be flexible" on e-royalty rates, since current industry standards provide a royalty of 25% of receipts. The signal was quite clear that 25% was there for the asking. In further discussions on Monday, Sargent confirmed that Macmillan’s standard e-book royalty would be 25% of receipts under their new boilerplate contract.
As we’ve said before, we believe that 25% of receipts is a transitional royalty rate for e-books. From our December 15 e-mail alert on Random House’s retroactive rights grab:
"Authors and publishers have traditionally split the proceeds from book sales. Most sublicenses, for example, provide for a 50/50 split of proceeds, and the standard trade book royalty of 15% of the hardcover retail price, back in the days that industry standard was established, represented about 50% of the net proceeds of the sale of the book. We’re confident that the current practice of paying 25% of net on e-books will not, in the long run, prevail. Savvy agents are well aware of this. The only reason e-book royalty rates are so low right now is that so little attention has been paid to them: sales were simply too low to scrap over. That’s beginning to change… [W]e strongly suspect that e-royalty rates are at a low-water mark."
That said, Macmillan’s e-book royalty rate is now similar to that of other major publishers. We look forward to continuing to discuss with Macmillan other provisions of its proposed new contract.
His open letter is below.
To: Macmillan Authors and Illustrators
cc: Literary Agents
From: John Sargent
I am sorry I have been silent since Saturday. We have been in constant discussions with Amazon since then. Things have moved far enough that hopefully this is the last time I will be writing to you on this subject.
Over the last few years we have been deeply concerned about the pricing of electronic books. That pricing, combined with the traditional business model we were using, was creating a market that we believe was fundamentally unbalanced. In the last three weeks, from a standing start we have moved to a new business model. We will make less money on the sale of e books, but we will have a stable and rational market. To repeat myself from last Sunday’s letter, we will now have a business model that will ensure our intellectual property will be available digitally through many channels, at a price that is both fair to the consumer and that allows those who create and publish it to be fairly compensated.
We have also started discussions with all our other partners in the digital book world. While there is still lots of work to be done, they have all agreed to move to the agency model.
And now on to royalties. Three or four weeks ago, we began discussions with the Author’s Guild on their concerns about our new royalty terms. We indicated then that we would be flexible and that we were prepared to move to a higher rate for digital books. In ongoing discussions with our major agents at the beginning of this week, we began informing them of our new terms. The change to an agency model will bring about yet another round of discussion on royalties, and we look forward to solving this next step in the puzzle with you.
A word about Amazon. This has been a very difficult time. Many of you are wondering what has taken so long for Amazon and Macmillan to reach a conclusion. I want to assure you that Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us. Though we do not always agree, I remain full of admiration and respect for them. Both of us look forward to being back in business as usual.
And a salute to the bricks and mortar retailers who sell your books in their stores and on their related websites. Their support for you, and us, has been remarkable over the last week. From large chains to small independents, they committed to working harder than ever to help your books find your readers.
Lastly, my deepest thanks to you, our authors and illustrators. Macmillan and Amazon as corporations had our differences that needed to be resolved. You are the ones whose books lost their buy buttons. And yet you have continued to be terrifically supportive of us and of what we are trying to accomplish. It is a great joy to be your publisher.
I cannot tell you when we will resume business as usual with Amazon, and needless to say I can promise nothing on the buy buttons. You can tell by the tone of this letter though that I feel the time is getting near to hand.