This past weekend was one of those rare weekends when I didn’t write, didn’t edit, didn’t do anything with regard to the publishing industry other than re-reading one of Dave Freer’s books for fun. I didn’t even read the blogs I normally do. Instead, I enjoyed spending the weekend at university with my son — always a reason to celebrate.
So, imagine my reaction when I got home last night and started going through my regular blog reading and found some of my concerns now being voiced by names bigger and more knowledgeable than I.
A little background first. I may be a very small fish in a huge pond when it comes to being a published author, but I keep my ear to the ground and I talk to a number of others who have been in the business a lot longer than I. One thread has seemed to be consistent of late — the concern that royalty statements aren’t accurately reflecting the number of sales any given author is making. Now, this concern isn’t anything new. Writers have had issues with Bookscan numbers for quite awhile simply because Bookscan doesn’t report all sales. It simply reports sales from selected markets and then extrapolates from there. Okay, it might be easier for a a publisher to simply pay a third party to do this, but come on, guys, the publisher surely knows how many books are printed, how many are shipped, how many are sitting in a warehouse somewhere and how many have been returned. A simple in-house computing program could track that.
So, Bookscan had been an issue of concern. Then Amazon did something the publishers hated. They made Bookscan numbers available to authors who take part in their Author Central program. Oooops. Now writers can track their own numbers for printed books without breaking the bank.
That then focused attention on e-book sales and gets back to my conversations with some of my writer friends. More than one talked about how they were getting royalty statements saying they had sold a very small number of e-books — far less than what their fan mail and in-person conversations with readers led them to believe — and, very suspiciously, they sold the exact same number of copies of multiple titles. Okay, I’m a pretty trusting person, but when a royalty statement says Author A sold 8 copies each of three books and this is exactly what they sold the previous royalty period as well…well, I start getting suspicious.
Seems I’m not alone. One of those I respect a great deal in the business is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Rusch, but I have followed her posts in “The Business Rusch” for some time now. Her post on the 13th about royalty statements is something every writer needs to read, digest, read again and then act on. Remember, the publishing industry is changing very rapidly right now and publishers are struggling to figure out how to adapt — I hope they are at least — and I think Ms. Rusch is right when she says that adopting a new accounting method that accurately tracks e-book sales is not high on publishers’ priority lists right now.
Maybe Bookscan will soon start tracking e-book sales as well. It won’t be perfect, far from it. But it will be one more weapon in a writer’s arsenal to protect himself.
(As an aside, another blog every writer should be following is Dean Wesley Smith‘s. Between him and Ms. Rusch, the business of publishing is made much more understandable for writers at all stages of their careers.)