Friday, December 07, 2007

Kindle Concerns

There's been a bit of on-going discussion about's new e-book reader "Kindle." I discovered my book Tall, Dark & Dead is available in Kindle format. When I expressed some concern about this on BroadUniverse, I got a lot of confused looks, electronically speaking. When I asked if I was going to "get any money" for this, people patiently explained to me that Kindle was new technology and that OBVIOUSLY I wouldn't know if I was going to make a profit on it until I got my royalty statement.

Here's my reply: That's not how things normally work. When SF BookClub, for instance, wants to change the format of my book, i.e. publish its own version, they pay Penguin USA a fee UP FRONT -- an advance -- for the rights to do this. A percent of this advance is credited to my royalties. Any time anyone changes the format of my book (audio, book club, e-book), Penguin should get an advance BEFORE they make that new format available.

Of course, I may see royalties from the sale of my books on the same way I see royalties from any bookseller. But, think about it. If Uncle Hugo's decided to make an audio book of Tall, Dark & Dead available to their customers, Penguin USA would sue their a**es. Uncle Hugo's, though they have copies of the book laying around that they paid for, doesn't have the right to do anything but sell them in the format they bought them in. Can you imagine if SF Bookclub (or, let's say, I) said to themselves, "Hey, I know let's make an e-book of this book I bought at the store today. I'll just scan the pages here and I'm golden. I'll put it up on the web. Anyone can buy it."

That is exactly what did.

Penguin owns the right to all formats that my book could potentially appear in (book club, audio, e-book, brainwaves*, etc.), in order to stop people from just randomly making their own versions available., as far as I understand it, certainly never paid Penguin an advance, because I'd have heard about it from my agent. This is the money I'm talking about.

It's not greed that makes me concerned, although I would expect to see some profit from any format change. If Bob Smith wants to sit down with Audacity and make a audio version of my book, I think he'd get sued for copyright infringement, which this is. Bob Smith doesn't have the right to SELL my book in any format other than the one Penguin Putnam produced (or any other publisher who bought those rights from Penguin.) And, Penguin doesn't have to wait for Bob Smith to make a profit. They should be paid in advance of publication of the new format. Period.

* I'm not kidding. My contract stipulates that Penguin owns the rights to all "future technologies" as well. If my agent crossed that out on the contract, which she may have, then damn well better pay ME for this "future technology." Because then those rights belong to me.


Kelly McCullough said...

From what I understand, Amazon is not serving as the publisher for Kindle titles. They are serving as the sales and distribution channel, so your book would be published by Penguin in a Kindle edition, which would be completely within the terms of your contract as mentioned above. Amazon isn't changing the format of your book, Penguin is, hence no new advance. At least, that is how I understand the Kindle contracts to work.

Sean M. Murphy said...

I think Kelly's right, but... better check with your editor to be sure that's what's happening.

Kelly McCullough said...

For the record that's how several other Penguin authors that I know have characterized their Kindle releases. I am also a Penguin author, but my contracts retain electronic rights. Which is why you won't see me on Kindle without a new contract of some sort.