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Re: Book Royalities

On Tue, 13 May 1997, Artemis BonaDea wrote:

> A recent posting included the phrase "standard royalities" and it
> reminded me that I've been wondering if there were standard royalities
> in book arts or commerical publishing.


In my experience "standard royalties" are whatever a perticular publisher
thinks that it can get away with based on their minimum guidelines.

The following information is from an old (but quite good) article in the
AAUP Bulletin for spring, 1967 (pp. 30-46)):

Royalties are based on percentage of list price, net price, or ner
proceeds.  List is most commonly used.  The article examined rate
structures of 17 commercial and 17 university presses.  List was used by
59% of commercial and 67% of university presses with net being used by
35% and 33% respectively.  Note that some publishers probably use
different methods depending on the particular book.  "...there is no easy
and accurate way to describe royalty rate structures for the purposes of
comparison.  The system places the author at a great disadvantage in his
effort to evaluate the royalty terms proposed in his contract.  Thus, the
apparently simple conversion of list-price-based royalties on a college
text to the equivalent royalty rates on gross sales normally runs into a
major complication."
        The article goes into many other intricacies and details
including some rate conversion tables.  Recommendations for changes are
made in the article.  I don't know whether they have been implemented
over the past 30 years.  In any case, authors are hostage to publishers
in terms of getting accurate sales data as well as royalty information.
Marketing issues are also important.  I once had a scholarly book
published by a commercial publisher.  While the book was being
manufactured the publisher decided to change its focus area.  Thus, the
book was never marketed in any form in spite of excellent reviews.
Letters to the corporate parent (a very large publisher) complaining were
unanswered.  Efforts to get the rights assigned elsewhere were useless.
Indeed, the book is now out of print and I was never asked if I wished to
purchase left-over (remaindered) copies.  The book is an underground
classic and there would be a market, albeit small.
        From that time on I have done all that I can to check out
publishers.  This has extended to taking a lower royalty rate from a
publisher that I thought would do marketing that would more than make up
for the lower royalty.
        The article goes on to present more data.  However, the bottom
line remains the same in my mind.  That is, there is no consistent bottom
line so far as an author is concerned.
         Many people have set up self-publishing efforts.  E. Tufte is a
successful example.  He could not find a publisher for his first book on
interpreting data graphically and published it himself.  His third book is
now in print and he's giving seminars nationally at about $250
registration per person.  Shareen LaPlantz is another example of a book
artist who self-published (she also uses commercial publishers).  I don't
know how "successful" she is but I enjoy her works and respect her
        I am certain that others can cite more recent information.  I
look forward to learning more.


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