Wednesday, June 13, 2012

RANT: This. Must. Change.

Saladin Ahmed, author of THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON and someone I consider a friend of this site, recently posted this on his blog:
Hello. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you’re a reader of my fiction and/or an IRL or online friend. In any case, a warning: This post is quite long, and it’s deeply (perhaps uncomfortably) personal.

I’m writing this post because I am, not to put too fine a point on it, in trouble and in need of help...In essence, this is a plea for a sort of patronage. A number of you have bought or spread word about my first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, and I can’t thank you enough for that support. I’ve also had a humbling number of readers write to ask how they can further support my writing. So here I’m offering up a new piece of fiction and, with it, a request for further support. Depending on who you are, this support might be described as help for a friend in need, patronage for a writer whose long-term career you’d like to support, or both
I won't get into more detail, but let you track back to his blog if you want to know more. Suffice to say, he's in financial trouble and that trouble is directly related to the struggle of trying to make a living as a writer.

Three Things To Take Away From This

1. Saladin needs support, both material and spiritual, from his fans. If you count yourself as one of them, then I urge you to consider giving your patronage. If you are not, but have been curious about THRONE, then I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy.

2. This situation is a direct result of the LACK of proper compensation given to authors. Let me spell it out for you: a typical publishing contract gives authors a 17.9% royalty rate. Booksellers, including ebook retailers, take about 30%; the rest goes to publishers. Now, admittedly, all stops on this supply chain do essential work, and all have been struggling as of late (with the exception of ebook retailers).

But I'm going to say it straight--it's messed up that the people actually coming up with the ideas and actually putting words onto paper and actually creating the worlds and characters and situations we get our pleasure reading about are getting the smallest share, and it's decidedly too small. 

This is EXACTLY why self-publishing has become so enticing to so many emerging authors...because you can take 70% of royalties instead of 17.9%. Sure you miss out on all the stuff publishers provide, but you can sell 1/4 the books and still make more just about the same amount of money. For those who are not at the apex of their careers, and who are unlikely to ever become GRRMs or Grishams, this is starting to make more and more economic sense.  As self-published books grow more acceptable to readers, this potentially creates a serious problem for publishing companies.

3. Don't take this as a rant against publishers. As I said above, they are also struggling, and you just need to look at imprints like Tor/Daw and Gollancz/Orbit to see how essential they are to maintaining the health and progress of SF/F as a set of genres. But if publishing companies are going to survive, they collectively need to re-examine their compensatory models. Publishers need to consider raising the wholesale prices of books and ebooks to up that royalty rate, at least to 20%, if not 25% or higher.

Now before you go all DOJ on me and claim I'm calling for some sort of anti-consumer price fixing, let me just say that I don't like the idea of spending more money either. But I can't see any way around the fact that authors should be compensated better than they are, or the notion that a generalized price increase is the most efficient way of getting to there. We--as readers--should be willing to pay a little bit more for books than we do, provided we know that extra money is going straight to the people responsible for expanding our horizons and providing endless hours of entertainment.