Royalties and Marketing: How Publishing Houses Will Compete

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

A new digital-first publishing house announced its launch today: Astor + Blue Editions will launch on May 1 and “does things that no other publisher does (in one house),” said Tony Viardo, the company’s CEO and marketing director (underscore his).

So I called him up to find out what those things were that no other publisher was doing, most notably Open Road Media, a digital publishing start-up that seems to be a similar idea to Astor + Blue.

“The technology is the same,” said Viardo of Open Road and Astor + Blue, referring to the ability to publish digitally. “We feel our marketing program is different.”

Astor + Blue plans on marketing its authors’ books intensively for a full year and continuing to market thereafter. Call it a never-ending front-list.

(For the record, Open Road Media has said in the past it will continue to market its titles long after publication date. Open Road was contacted for comment on this article and was not able to reply by press time.)

Viardo also told me that Astor + Blue plans on offering a higher revenue split for authors than other publishers. The range offered in the company’s press release was 33% to 50%, but seems to be negotiable.

(Also for the record, Open Road Media offers a 50% share of profits to its authors.)

This touches on a larger question: In a world where authors can self-publish, work with agents and big publishers, go to Amazon, publish in short form, etc. — where, essentially, authors have a lot of choices — how do publishers compete for the best authors?

In December, we published a leaked document from Hachette that spelled out the relevance of publishers in the digital age, why authors and agents should work with them. It inspired much debate on the subject. Since then, we’ve seen much more discussion about the place of big publishers in the publishing ecosystem.

Two major themes continue to arise, specifically among authors:

1. Can this publisher help me sell more books than I could with another publisher or on my own?

2. What will they pay me in royalties for my content and, ultimately, how much money will I make?

(Though there are many other important issues, like editorial quality, production, return on time spent, cache, for instance, these are two that continue to drown out the others.)

As competition for top author talent increases (and I believe it will with new digital-first start-ups like one and booksellers like Amazon clamoring for exclusive book content) a publisher’s ability to market books and what kinds of revenues make it back to the author may be the difference between a front-list filled with A-level talent and one populated by the B-team.

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