Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Prolific authors, particularly once their careers are complete, tend to follow diverse paths with their publication arrangements. Some authors spend their entire careers with one publisher—for example, John Updike with Knopf, or Agatha Christie with Penguin. More commonly, prolific authors are published by several different publishers.
In some instances, a prominent author has been published by so many different publishers that it is difficult to license and sell his or her collective works. As the decades go by, even if the author has quite a few iconic works, the backlist tends to get dispersed in an ineffectual way. In brick and mortar distribution, most of the titles will not even be available. Important titles from different publishers may or may not be racked together. Edition formats (mass market or trade paperback) are likely not uniform, nor are suggested list prices. Jacket treatments are quite different, and the “branding” for the author is anything but consistent. Even on Amazon or bn.com, these print titles will be confused by multiple editions.
Most of these older titles are not available as ebooks, usually because the underlying contracts are earlier than the mid-1990s and predate when electronic rights were licensed to print publishers.
Unifying the author’s backlist for ebook publication is a difficult licensing task.
If successful, a unified ebook program achieves a number of objectives:
- All of the author’s backlist titles are available in an ebook collection, ideally for worldwide English language rights.
- The titles have a uniform digital list price.
- The jackets can have a “template,” so that the branding of the author is consistent throughout.
- Merchandising on sites and through social media can fully leverage an ebook collection, as opposed to merchandising title by title, across multiple publishers’ platforms.
- The success of the ebook collection drives print sales, particularly on Amazon and bn.com.
A good example of such a program is RosettaBooks’ release this week of 35 of the major works by Arthur C. Clarke, originally published in print editions by over 50 different publishers. The collection is available for sale at all major sites at a digital list price of $8.99 per title. The jackets are uniform. The titles are highly suitable for merchandising as a collection, which is what the major sites will support. While Arthur C. Clarke has long been recognized (with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein) as one of the giants in science fiction writing in the last 100 years, this ebook collection will bring more attention to the Arthur C. Clarke backlist than has been possible for decades.
Soon, both Arthur C. Clarke’s legions of fans and a new generation of readers will have the opportunity to rediscover or discover the body of his work, thanks to the power of an ebook collection.