Wednesday, April 13, 2011

JA Konrath Just Threw Down The Gauntlet

If, like me, you've been following the NY Times Disunion Series, you know that April 12th was the 150th anniversary of the Battle for Fort Sumter. After 34 hours of continuous artillery fire, Major Anderson agreed to terms. The Confederates claimed the fort, and the American Civil War began.

Fort Sumter after the battle

Sheesh. They don't do artillery bombardments like they used to.

Anyway, bestselling author Bob Mayer decided to publish a new novel on the anniversary of the conflict. Duty, Honor, Country: West Point to Shiloh focuses on the West Point graduates that were forced to pick sides.

Bob Mayer also had to pick a side. 

He chose to self-publish.

Mayer was on JA Konrath's blog yesterday talking about how self-publishing allowed him more control over his craft. He was able to chose his release date. He was able to retain his rights. Mayer discussed a number of his reservations about the traditional publishing model and some of the advantages he's discovered with self-publishing. It's a good read. You should check it out.

JA Konrath is a well known name in authors' circles. He was a bestselling author that identified the key advantages of going it alone early on. Konrath moved a number of his unpublished novels onto the Kindle in the hopes of supplementing his income. Within a few years, he was making more money off his electronic titles than his traditionally printed novels.

Konrath has made it his business to challenge many of the long held views about publishing. He backs up his words with numbers, thinks like an entrepreneur, and has been consistently honest about his experiences. His blog was critical in my own decision to forgo the traditional route, and I owe him a debt of gratitude. It looked lonely out there for quite a while, but he didn't seem to be bothered by the cold.

The post by Mayer is excellent, but what really caught my attention was what Konrath wrote at the bottom of their discussion:

Once again, for all those industry folks who read my blog but are too chicken to leave comments, here's what you need to do:
1. Give authors fair e-royalty rates. 50% should be the ground floor, and it should go up from there using various escalators.
2. Share the e-wealth with authors by offering them higher rates on contracts that are still active.

Fair enough, I thought. But why would the publishing houses ever agree to share more of the wealth on existing contracts? The've got these poor authors locked into pitiful <15% royalty rates. Why would they renegotiate?

That's when Konrath drop a bomb:
Did you hear that, Hyperion and Grand Central? Pay me more money for my Jack Daniels books and for AFRAID. Let's redo the ebook clauses on my old deals so they're fair in this brave, new ebook world. Because if you don't, I'm going to exploit my interactive multimedia rights, release my backlist as enhanced ebooks, and UNDERCUT YOU ON THE PRICE.
I blinked twice at that one. Had he just declared war?

A little bit of background:

When you sign a deal with a publisher, you sill retain your copyright. What's really happening is you are granting the publisher specific rights to market and sell your work on the open market. You can grant them your US paper rights, your US ebook rights, or your Swaziland movie rights. (The fine points are stipulated in the contract.) What's important is that if a right hasn't been granted in a contract, it is still retained by the author. Paperback rights aren't the same as electronic book rights. Video game rights are considered distinct from movie rights. Audio books are considered separate rights as well.

That's where the concept of "interactive multimedia" rights come in. Interactive multimedia rights are a relatively new concept. The media is defined by an interactive experience in which both the user and work of art are active particpante. Think virtual reality immersion.

The point Konrath is making is current e-reader technology could offer an interactive media experience that could meet that very definition. Sure, it wouldn't be a Johnny Mnemonic level virtual reality mind trip, but an interactive ebook could certainly offer added value to the reader. For instance, what if an author took one of their current books and added color text, vibrant images, audio commentary, links to videos, a companion website, and interactive maps?

Look what Jill Williamson is doing for her Blood of Kings series. She's offering a fully interactive map that traces the paths of her characters. Isn't that added value? Isn't that more immersive?

This may all sound like a stretch, but if so, why have the publishers modified the fine print in recent contracts to include multimedia rights in their book deals?

Will this strategy work? Will his argument hold up in court? Who knows, but I'm certain that's what publishers are asking their lawyers this very second. Because you know what's really scary? A ruling against them would apply to every single title on their backlists.


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