What if 95%—or 99%—of the income from your sold products never reaches you?


Kind of hard to survive publishing and selling bound books, ebooks, or CDs, for example, if at the very moment that they come into existence some other company legally makes them available to their buyers but none (or a few pennies) of that income comes your way. Talk about a disincentive!

Yet that’s the very scenario that Minda Zetlin, President of ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) describes for the music world, and asks if that’s not on the horizon for writers (and publishers)…

In The ASJA Monthly of Sept. 12, 2012, Ms. Zetlin reminds us of iTunes and Amazon where you could buy a song for 99¢ and it was yours forever. Musicians selling directly through the service got 70¢ for each song bought.

Then services like Pandora and Rhapsody let you listen to the songs whenever you wanted, as long as you were connected to the Internet.

Now, Spotify charges $10 a month to move any song you like to your playlist and hear it as long as you pay the monthly. On the Internet, off of it, or in an album—and you needn’t be on the Internet either. A million songs, to hear on your iPhone, iPod, and computer. For example, if you heard a song from guitarist Cameron Mitchell last fall, he got .4 cents every time that song was downloaded!

How might that affect writers?

Beware of the subscription model, already done by Amazon Prime. “Sooner or later, Google or someone else will come along and negotiate a subscription-based deal with the big New York publishers. And authors will likely be out in the cold, collecting the text equivalent of four tenths of a cent per song, unless we do something about it,” says Zetlin, also columnist for the Inc. magazine website and author of several books.

It’s no different for the mega-publishing industry. “From what I’ve heard,” says continues, “the major publishers are trembling in their fancy Midtown offices, in fear of losing their relevance the same way the labels have.”

How does the “wee writer” not be swept away by the tide?

One way is to be attentive and vigilant about selling rights to subscription services: either that the rights are not to be sold to the subscriptionfolk or that ebook rights are to be sold only to venues that exist today, whether you handle your rights yourself or you have an agent or lawyer do it.

As for the big houses not protecting your rights or income, remind them that you don’t need them. “After all, when it comes to authorship and copyright, the owner of the book is you,” concludes the ASJA president.

(I’ll keep my eye on this and report back by blog or in my free monthly newsletter. I’ll also tell you if somedody else is looking to swipe your .4 cents!)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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