Royalty Rates for E-Books: My Take

by John Soares on February 8, 2011

I just wrote an extensive post on my site about why writers should get a 50% percent royalty (net) on trade paperback and hardcover e-books:

1. Most importantly, publishing is shifting to electronic formats. We all know about Amazon’s Kindle and other e-book readers, and it’s obvious that the future of publishing is digital. This means the publishers’ printing, shipping, and storage costs will only apply to the far fewer physical books that are actually printed.

2. Marketing costs could go way down for publishers. The companies that have the best websites and do the most effective outreach to potential customers online through social media and other channels will have a strong advantage. This could be far cheaper than hiring salespeople and book representatives to visit bookstores and other brick-and-mortar sales outlets.

3. There may come a time — and it could be within 3-5 years or less — when almost all books are digital, with only a few produced physically through print-on-demand.

4. In the digital world, a savvy author can do as much or more to drive book sales than the publisher will.

As some of you may know, I’ve had three hiking guidebooks published by The Mountaineers Books, a mainstream publisher, so that experience, plus my research, is the basis for my 50% royalty rate assertion.

I know many of the readers here at the Writing College Textbook Supplements blog are already textbook authors or hope to be someday. While the arguments in my post focus on mainstream publishers of trade books, I think that some of the arguments are applicable to the textbook market.

Your Thoughts?

Leave a comment below to share what you think about royalty rates on textbooks, or head to the post on to share what you think about the broader issue of e-book royalty rates.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael September 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Couldn’t agree more. Writers never seem to get the pay and respect they deserve. Things change, the way words are presented for example, but some things unfortunately hold on.


Ricki Lewis November 29, 2011 at 5:58 pm

You seem like just the person I’m looking for. I am a long-time textbook author for McGraw-Hill Higher Education. The royalty clauses in my contracts are so old that they cover only print books. Question: should royalties for e-textbooks be 25%, as they are for trade books? I’ve brought this royalty question up with my co-authors and editors and everyone is acting like I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I have a book coming out with St. Martin’s Press and that contract has 25% for e-books. Thanks for any advice! And please let me know if you’d like me to guest blog — I’ve been at this a looooong time.


John Soares December 1, 2011 at 6:35 am

Ricki, I think all authors should be looking to get the best royalty rates possible on e-books. The time may soon be coming where nearly all sales are e-books. I suggest you talk to your co-authors and agree on a plan for negotiating what you can.

There’s far more information about this on the actual post and in the comments over at my site: Why Publishers Should Pay a 50-Percent Royalty of Net Income on E-Books.

Also consider joining the Text and Academic Authors Association. (I’m a member.) They have lots of info about precisely this subject.


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