Monday, May 14, 2012

The dollars and sense of the words and numbers, Part 1

One thing always leads to another.  Always.

And everything is connected.  Everything.

Some months ago, I blogged about an analysis I had done almost 20 years ago regarding how much it costs to produce a mass market paperback romance novel.  That analysis was a response to the numbers the publishers -- and most notably Steve Zacharius of Kensington/Zebra -- had been giving to RWA in justification of their low royalty rates and outrageous contract terms.

I have always contended that publishers were shafting the writers, but writers didn't have any valid options, and in the absence of any real advocacy from RWA on behalf of the writers, nothing would change.  Individual authors might achieve sufficient status that they'd have clout to get their own contract terms made more favorable, but the majority of romance writers were getting shafted left and right especially on discounted bulk sales and subscription sales for print books.  And it's worse today on digital sales.

The figures Courtney Milan is reporting from her royalty statements bear that out.

Now, allow me to qualify that, as indeed I believe Courtney does herself:  There are significant differences between the costs to manufacture a paper-and-ink book and the costs to upload a digital edition.  Those overhead costs -- editing, artwork, etc. -- are incurred simply to produce the product, regardless how many are produced or how many are sold and are going to be more or less the same for print as for digital.

Additional expenses involved in promotion, marketing, etc., are optional and separate.

So let's keep in mind that there are basically three types of expenditures to take into consideration when determining the total "cost" of a book:

1.  Pre-production overhead for editing, artwork, etc., and this includes all the stuff associated with office space and receptionist's salary and conference attendance.
2.  Manufacturing cost: the paper and ink and foil and embossing dies plus transportation and warehousing.
3.  Post-production advertising and promotion.

Remember -- keep those in mind at all times when examining any claims by anyone regarding the profitability of any given romance novel.

Now, read this statement from Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books imprint from last week, courtesy of Romantic Times online, in which the most important line is this:

Pocket’s executive vice president and publisher Louise Burke had this to say about the variety of authors that will be included in the line when these digital books land on e-shelves:
“Similar to how mass market has served as a platform to develop future hardcover authors, it is our mission to use Pocket Star’s new digital-only format to establish new voices in the marketplace. An eBook imprint is flexible, cost-effective, cutting-edge and makes sense in today’s marketplace.
Yes, dear readers of my little blog, a publisher's representative, in this case an executive vice president, is acknowledging that ebooks are cost-effective.  That's executive speak for "We make more money off these things than on our other products."

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