To E-Book or Not to E-Book... Are Authors Losing Out?

02/24/2011 04:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

That is the question. There are many advantages to writing or translating your book to a digital version: shorter to-market turn time, less cost, e-books sales rising, and NY Times Bestseller List for e-books on its way. And then there are the royalties. I previously wrote about how the royalty percentage to authors is greater than that of the printed versions and yet there continues to be changes in the playing field.

As recently reported by The Author's Guild,

"E-book royalty rates for major trade publishers have coalesced, for the moment, at 25% of the publisher's receipts. ... this is contrary to longstanding tradition in trade book publishing, in which authors and publishers effectively split the net proceeds of book sales (that's how the industry arrived at the standard hardcover royalty rate of 15% of list price). Among the ills of this radical pay cut is the distorting effect it has on publishers' incentives: publishers generally do significantly better on e-book sales than they do on hardcover sales. Authors, on the other hand, always do worse."

"So, everything else being equal, publishers will naturally have a strong bias toward e-book sales. It certainly does wonders for cash flow: not only does the publisher net more, but the reduced royalty means that every time an e-book purchase displaces a hardcover purchase, the odds that the author's advance will earn out -- and the publisher will have to cut a check for royalties -- diminishes. In more ways than one, the author's e-loss is the publisher's e-gain."

So what does the author have to look out for? A much more e-book favorable contract. That is when your literary agent must make sure that the existing contract is adjusted or renegotiated to account for an increase in e-book sales and anticipated decrease in royalties.

I am really torn on the subject. As a book lover, I want the book industry to continue to thrive. I want publishers to stay in business. As an author, I also want to make sure the playing field is level and that the royalty "check is in the mail."

What arguments could you make for either side, or both? What do you feel is fair? How do you see all of this playing out? Please share your opinion, thoughts and suggestions here. I would love to get the dialogue started from all perspectives.

If you are an author or an aspiring author, I HIGHLY recommend you join The Author's Guild. (I am not an affiliate, but a proud card-carrying member!). They are a non-profit organization that will act as your advocate. As they explain on their website ( they support "writers' interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912. It provides legal assistance and a broad range of web services to its members. Each year the Guild holds several seminars and/or symposia at which experts provide information, offer advice, and answer questions on subjects of concern to authors, and transcripts of the symposia offer those who could not attend the opportunity to enjoy these popular events."

To read more about the eBook royalty debate, see The Author's Guild article, "E-Book Royalty Math: The House Always Wins."

Arielle Ford has launched the careers of many NY Times bestselling authors including Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Neale Donald Walsch & Debbie Ford. She is a former book publicist, literary agent and the author of seven books. To learn how to get started writing a book please visit: