A semi-cooperative publishing model

Surprise: I have a few thoughts about publishing.

Let’s take folks at their word and assume that many are concerned about author remuneration in the book business. Let’s further assume that the authors they’re worried about are the ones who are actually struggling to make ends meet or are otherwise outside of (or on the periphery of) authorship as a profession for financial reasons. I’ve written elsewhere of my skepticism about the “grow-the-pie” approach traditionally associated with expanding copyright protections. Even if it worked (it’s a big if), I’d expect this to primarily reward existing market winners, making it a trickle-down approach to increasing author pay.

Finally, let’s assume we can’t just burn the whole thing down and start again. What are we to do? Well, here’s one quick publishing model that might help more equitably allocate reward:

Break down the author’s royalty into two segments. The first, and larger, segment is a traditional royalty based on total copies sold. This rewards the instinct that the market is somehow meritocratic and lets big sellers still be bigger winners.

The second segment (8%?) is diverted to a pool that is split between the publisher’sĀ entireĀ author list, probably on some pro rata basis depending on the number of total books currently with the publisher and the type(s) of publication at issue.

Couple this with a time-limited publishing agreement (twenty years?) to both (a) further allow standouts to capitalize on their success by leaving painlessly to monetize elsewhere, and (b) avoid dilution of the shared royalty pool by the accrual of titles over time. Books meeting certain sales standards are, of course, allowed to renew their contracts, although I imagine that scenario would probably be relatively uncommon.

Call it semi-cooperative publishing.

You could, of course, go with a purely cooperative model, but that’s a bit of a different discussion, and comes with its own sets of complications.

So who’s in? Should we do this thing?


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