Mike Shatzkin has written another thought-provoking post about the publishing industry. (If the business interests you, subscribe to his feed; his perspective is expert and insightful.) This time his basic thesis is not only perspicacious, it absolutely delights me. He makes a good case that it’s in the best interests of agency publishers (most of the publishers you’ve heard of) to pay their authors a higher ebook royalty.

For the ins and outs of it, you’ll have to read Shatzkin’s post; publishing accounting practises are arcane. But here’s one of the more simple points he makes: writers don’t pay much attention to the fiddly bits, the unspoken cost of the publisher’s job: marketing, publicity, design, editing, etc. Apparently what we notice are the contractually agreed numbers: advances and royalties. So if Amazon comes along and offers the author an ebook royalty of 35% of the gross, and an agency publisher offers 25% of the net, well, us simple souls won’t bother factoring in such airy-fairy fiddle-faddle as market penetration, we’ll think, Hang on, Amazon will pay us twice as much. And we’ll jump ship.

Publishers need to hold their noses and take the leap to higher royalty rates. Yes, it’ll trigger all kinds of clauses regarding industry standard rates; yes, then they’ll have to pay out more even on backlist titles. But the alternative is a) paying out more to retailers instead (go read the post) and b) losing the providers they absolutely can’t do without: writers with proven readership.

Do I want to get paid more? Oh, yes. Do I think Shatzkin is right? Absolutely. Will it happen? No doubt; it’s just a question of how fast. But how many great writers will get scooped up by Amazon before that happens?

Big Six, over to you.