Bill of Rights for E-Book Authors

The Writers’ Union of Canada has released A Writer’s Bill of Rights for the Digital Age to benefit the creators of literary works in Canada:


Copyright legislation shall ensure the protection of intellectual property and appropriate compensation for rightsholders.


Exceptions to copyright shall be minimized.


The publisher shall split the net proceeds of ebook sales equally with the author.


The author shall retain all electronic rights not specifically granted to the publisher or producer and shall have approval of any modifications made to the work.


The publisher shall not exercise or sublicense ebook publishing rights without the express authorization of the author.


When a book is out of print in print form, continuing sales in electronic form shall not prevent a rights reversion to the author.


For ebooks, the publisher in its contract shall replace the traditional “out of print” clause that triggers a rights reversion with a sales volume clause (e.g., less than a specified quantity of ebooks sold in a specified number of royalty periods) and/or a finite term of license (e.g., five years).


When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book.


The Public Lending Right Commission shall provide author payments for electronic books and allot additional monies to this end.


Libraries shall acquire digital copies of works in their collections only from rightsholders or their licensing agencies.


Ebook retailers shall require the rightsholder’s permission for any free preview or download of an electronic work, and the rightsholder shall specify the maximum amount to be made available.


Agents, publishers, aggregators, retailers, and libraries shall ensure that works in digital form will be well protected and will not be shared, traded, or sold outside the boundaries authorized by the contract.

Greg Hollingshead, chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada, responds to questions about the bill of rights in an interview by the Edmonton Journal:

Q: Many writers seem content to leave matters of digital rights to their agents. Why is it important they are educated?

A: First, in Canada only about 20 per cent of writers have agents.

Second, we believe it’s always important for writers to understand what is, or is not, being done in their name. This is a transformative time in the industry, and it seems important to us that writers not allow the other players in the digital arena to decide what is best for them. There needs to be dialogue, and for this writers need to be informed, and as a union we need to have a clearly stated position, both for our members to consider and discuss and for ourselves to go with to publishers and government.

A post at Iguana Books offers rebuttal and comment, for example:

8. When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book.

This is a can of worms. “The file” usually contains material that the author doesn’t have the copyright for – images, designs, text (such as the index) that other writers have prepared. What the writer actually needs is the file and the list of permissions associated with the publication, so that all other rightsholders can be compensated if their material is used in a new edition.

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]

Don’t Stop the Presses

Have you heard? Rather than being pushed to the edge of extinction by trends in electronic publishing, English-language printed books have an unlimited future — in India:

“Books matter more in India than anywhere else we publish them,” added Makinson, whose Penguin Group is one of the world’s largest English-language publishers.

While book sales slip in most western countries, the non-academic book market in India is currently growing at a rate of 15 to 18 percent annually, as rapid economic growth swells literacy rates and adds millions to the middle class every year.

[Source: Reuters. Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Francis Hamit: A New Business Model

Francis Hamit of Brass Cannon Books, author of The Shenandoah Spy, shares his new strategy for pricing e-books (from a discussion posted on LinkedIn today):

A NEW BUSINESS MODEL: We are making the price of the e-book edition the same as that of the least expensive print edition.

Most of our publishing since 2004 has been in e-books. Originally we followed the conventional wisdom that e-books should cost less because they are virtual rather than real-world products. We had most titles at about $1.95. We distribute through Ingram, so we only receive, net, 45% of that price. We found that some online retailers were marking up our titles to $9.95 and keeping the difference. We also found that we have no control over what other people charge. Most of this material, more than sixty titles in all, are recycled trade magazine articles of limited interest to the general public. It sells slowly. We raised the price to $4.99. That gives us a net of $2.25 per copy. The rest goes to paying for distribution.  These items are available in just three formats, Adobe, Microsoft Reader and Sony Reader. They sell best in the Sony format. We have one fiction piece “Buying Retail” for 49 cents and that sells ten times as many copies than the rest, but it’s an entertainment product rather than an information one.  Given our new orientation towards fiction and other narrative forms, it’s a sampler. A leader item to attract readers for The Shenandoah Spy and other works of fiction.

It recently came to me, in the wake of the dust-up with Amazon and the big publishers over pricing that anyone who can spend several hundred dollars for the coolness and convenience of an electronic book reader can afford to pay full price for a book, regardless of format. Mr. Bezos may consider all books as just another online commodity to be sold at high velocity at the lowest possible price to gain market share, but my view is that every book is unique and has value regardless of the way it was produced. The current system locks me into surrendering more than half the fair market price of my book to others to get it to the customers.  Each format has front end costs which must be recovered. And I don’t care which format the customer prefers.

I want my percentage.  Making an e-book version available is a accommodation to a customer, but it’s a convenience they should pay a fair price for. My own preference is to sell the print edition and have done with it.  So, if you want to read the book electronically, you pay the same price.

Now some retailers routinely cut the price, but that doesn’t matter to me since that discount comes from their end of the deal and not mine. I have to maintain per-copy margins to survive as a business. I own this book and have put it out at a fair price. Certainly, it’s not the only one on the shelf, but if you want to read it then you have to buy it from me, unless you buy a used copy or deal with pirates. And if you do that, then you were never really a potential customer anyway, were you?

I will cut the price of the e-book edition in the future to match the least priced paperback in the U.S. market. I think if other publishers follow my lead this will resolve a lot of the current problems of print versus electronic pricing.