Aussie author society backs 35% eBook royalties


The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) has published an extensive analysis of how the onset of electronic books changes the publisher contractual landscape, including a recommendation that Australian authors attempt a return of 35 percent of royalties from eBooks – much higher than traditional paper books.

The ASA bills itself as the professional association for Australian authors, and counts a number of authors among its members. For example, a list of the books its members have published in July 2010 is available on its website, with several dozen new books included.

The association debuted its paper last week, saying in a statement that eBooks were “suddenly upon us” after years of being “something of an abstract concept”. “As an author, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve sworn eternal loyalty to the print book or raced to the front of the queue to buy a shiny new iPad, the e-book affects you,” the organisation wrote. We heard about this story first through BookBee.

According to the paper, traditionally, authors would be paid a standard rate of 10 percent of the retail price of a book. So, if a paperback novel went for $25 in a physical book store, the author would pick up $2.50 per unit of the book.

However, the ASA noted in the paper that there was a variety of trends in the eBook marketplace compared with the print marketplace which would change this figure.

For starters, the organisation wrote, eBooks were cheaper to buy than print books – currently eBooks were going for between US$7 (AU$8.05) and US$20 (AU$23) each online, with the ASA noting that there were no indications that price points above $20 would be feasible for most narrative-based texts in the immediate future. And there was also a difference online between the ‘list’ price and the ‘sell’ price, with the actual sell price being much lower than the price the book was listed at – similar to the old RRP/retail price debate.

Lastly, online retailers such as Amazon and Apple are shaking the author market up by allowing books to be sold directly and in some cases, authors and publishers to set the profit split hemselves.

Because of this, the ASA argued in its paper, it recommends that authors “should aim for a minimum royalty return to the author of 35 percent of the money that their publisher receives from an online eBook retailer. So if a publisher/retailer split was 60/40 of a US$20 book, the author would receive 35 percent of $12 – or $4.2. The alternative would be an equivalent mix of percentages that would achieve at least or better than the same dollar return as a paper version.

The full paper is available online.

Image credit: Officeworks


  1. Seems like a reasonable recommendation, although for self published books I don’t see any reason why the author shouldn’t be receiving at least 70%, in the same way that software developers get 70% from sales on the iTunes App Store. I don’t like the current system with print publishers at all – seems like the same system that is making it hard for me to buy books in the format I want (eBook), is also stopping the authors from getting a fair share of the money I pay.

    • Yeah I agree Tobias — I feel like 35% would be an absolute minimum … if your book is distributed entirely online, do you really need a publisher, after all? And how much should the retailer be taking on top? 10% or something, if that?

      It seems like the existing 10% in the paperback market was fairly low.

  2. The Australian Society of Authors are struggling to come to terms with the previously “abstract concept” of ebooks – they’ve been around now for over five years. Lift your heads.

    The beauty of eBooks for authors should be that the power of the publisher is diminished. If you can write a book, get it edited, self-promote it and make sure it is on Amazon, you’re in with a fighting chance. This revolution is an opportunity for authors, not to claw back 25%, but to take full control and ownership of intellectual properties.

    Take the newsmedia… I subscribe to a theory that the power lies with the journalists, not the masthead. The future of journalism is a bit more like “All Things D” in my humble opinion and much less like the New York Times. With the power of social media, authors have the ability to promote themselves, publish their works, and build their profile. Once established, they have the ability to directly connect to their audience, establish a rapport and ultimately, cut out the publisher entirely.

    I’d be thinking bigger than 35%, I’d be trying to figure out how to get rid of the likes of Doubleday and Penguin altogether.

  3. Some of the issues it is still expensive to create the origional, if insanely cheap to sell the “copies”.

    Editing, marketing and infrastructure (online and brick and mortar) will still need to be recouped.

    I think that the 35% can work, if advances where taken out of the equation. There has to be a realignment of the publisher and creator relationship.

    On the point of self publishing. It is not that hard, if you already have “Brand Reconition”. It is easier for a Tom Clancy or J.K Rowlings to sell a load of self publish books, but Joe Ranga would have issues selling 10 without a marketing and editing assist from publishers

  4. I think part of the problem is – how much should a book cost? When I pay $10 – $12 for a Kindle Book on Amazon, I think that’s the sweet spot. When I see a $35 book at Borders at Chatswood, I shake my head, fire up my iPhone and buy it from Amazon – with one-click shopping, I get it delivered to my iPad or Kindle faster than picking the book up off the shelf, walking to the checkout and paying for it.

    The existing publishing model is fundamentally broken. It requires “hits” to be successful and underwrite the other poor performers. This hit machine requires over-inflated hardcover prices and staged releases which are really just supply management tricks to incentivise buyers to pay over the odds.

    Dan Brown and JK Rowling didn’t get famous because their publishers spent millions of dollars advertising their books. They wrote books, they went out and hit the publicity trail, got positive reviews and continued to write good books. It took years of hard work for those two to become overnight successes.

    I think the key to being self-published is to change the value proposition. Go out and be noticed. Write a blog, use your twitter account, find out who the influencers are in your niche and give them free review copies. If you write a book, why not release a free prologue for the people who buy it or do a small 30 page spin-off book about one of your characters and surprise your readers with it one day as a gift.

    We’re living in different times. If you’re able to create something amazing life a really great book, then you have the tools to get out there and sell it yourself. You don’t need some talentless hack in New York to establish your marketing budget which will determine your success or failure for you. Why take 35% when you can virtually have it all as well as having full control of your career.

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