Tech vs. Print: Pottermore…but Less for Other Authors?

I admit it: I’ll be there in October when J.K. Rowling goes live with her new interactive site.  I felt a strange satisfaction to know she had gone direct to her fan base, and I know there will be much more than e-books offered at Pottermore.com. But a random question arose as I looked around the site: can authors afford to go completely digital?

Royalties for digital books now stand at 50% of sales and are bundled into the printed book royalties. As it stands, royalties for print vary from 10%  up to 15% for a heavy-hitter like Rowling. This translates to about $1.00 for every $25.00 book sold, after printing, binding,proofreading and profits to the publisher. Keep in mind,that’s balanced against the author’s advance; the up-front payment a professional relies upon for his or her income That $1.00 is a really rough estimate, and paperback royalties go from 7.5% to 10%.

“Digital is a real deal for authors!”, you may think. Think again.  How many times have you walked through a bookstore and picked up a book that you would never have thought of or otherwise considered if you were,say, puttering about in cyberspace? Sure, the big boys and girls, the chosen few who have made their names in print could afford to go completely digital. But a shift to exclusive online promotion will narrow that margin of 50% as the unknown authors jockey for attention. Figure in lower advances for less-known authors, a promotion system which doesn’t depend on your line-of-site experience at the local brick-and-mortar, and the possibility of breakthrough for a new and exciting unknown diminishes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read an excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s Town of Cats at http://www.newyorker.com…or maybe I’ll just wait until October and buy the book.  Murakami is always a good bet.

-Karen Tallant

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