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Publishers should set their own prices for e-books, according to a panel at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin.
By forcing prices upon books and publishers, Amazon has been setting the terms by which e-books are sold and thereby determining the income they bring in, said Brian Altounian, CEO and president of digital distribution platform WOWIO, Inc. The company seeks to give publishers the tools to account for what e-books cost them to produce and to determine how to cover those costs.
“We are trying to position ourselves at the forefront of that,” said Altounian, speaking Sunday morning at SXSW on a panel called Publishing Models Transforming the Book.
The higher prices suggested by Big Six publishers (compared to the prices charged by Amazon, for example), reflect that the greatest cost to publishers is still talent, not material, said Penguin global digital director Molly Barton on the panel. Supporting authors remains the most important consideration, she said.
Ads were brought up as one way to support the cost of talent and production for e-books. Although suggesting integration of advertisements into books might sound ugly at first, if ads help subsidize costs and can be integrated into an e-book in a way that does not disrupt the reading process they will become more and more attractive, Altounian said.
But it’s not just pricing that’s changing. The entire payout model has shifted for independent digital publisher The Atavist, said the company’s creative director and chief technology officer Jefferson Rabb. Authors at the company receive “lump sum payments” in lieu of advances, from which they take writing expenses.
For The Atavist, royalties in the traditional sense are eschewed in favor of splitting sales, “usually right down the middle.” The same goes for film rights—the publisher has its own Hollywood representation. What the author might give up in accepting a lower sum up front would come back to him in high returns on sales, said Rabb.
The panel also featured the fabulous Swanna MacNair, founding partner of transmedia content firm Creative Conduit, LLC, who pointed out that we should take a bigger picture into account when we talk about issues of remuneration in digital formats and distribution—one that encourages careful cross-platform management of intellectual property.
The conversation was moderated by Publishers Weekly’s Rachel Deahl.