- January 10, 2013
Mountaineer sets up his own digital publisher after refusing to accept 25% offer from Random House
Mountaineer Joe Simpson, author of a bestselling memoir about his miraculous survival in the Peruvian Andes, Touching the Void, has dumped his “bullying” publisher Random House after failing to reach agreement with them over over ebook royalties.
Simpson said he had had a “huge dispute” with his publisher Jonathan Cape, part of the Random House Group, over digital royalties, because “they thought they could bully me into accepting 25% royalties even though I owned 100% of them”. Average royalties on physical books range between 10 and 15%, with publishers offering up to 25% for ebooks. The issue has long been an inflammatory one for authors, who believe that as distribution and warehousing costs are lower for ebooks, they should receive up to 50% of royalties.
“It seems to be a fairly common tactic of the big publishing houses this, they like intimidating and bullying their authors, basically threatening to not publish them any more if they won’t accept these ridiculous royalty rates,” said Simpson in a YouTube video about his decision to part company with Random House.
“I realised when I had this battle with them that I didn’t need them. We don’t really need them as much as they would like us to think. OK, they have all the influence over book marketing and publicity, they have all the literary editors of the newspapers and magazines in their pockets, and they can ratchet that up, but they don’t need to take 75% of your royalties to do that.”
He has now set up his own digital publishing company, DirectAuthors.com, through which he will publish his full range of ebooks as well as his new print books. The publisher, which he is running with his management company, Parliament Speakers, is in negotiations with other established authors about releasing their ebooks, and will offer royalties on ebooks of 40-50%. Derek Redmond, the former Olympic athlete who is writing his first book, is already signed up. “If there are any authors out there who are in a similar situation, look at your contracts, stand up for your rights, don’t be bullied,” said Simpson.
“It was prompted by Joe’s situation with Random House. We were looking at possible solutions, and this came up as a good way forward,” said Marek Kriwald, managing director of DirectAuthors.com. “There is a certain amount of debate in the industry about royalty rates. Some people are quite happy with whatever’s offered, and others analyse the situation and decide it should be different … You have to question [publishers holding on to] 75% – there’s very little they need to do for that money.”
DirectAuthors launched its first ebook – of Touching the Void – at Christmas, and it has “been going very well”, said Kriwald. “It’s constantly been in the top 10 mountaineering books, and as we’ve not had the opportunity to do any promotion yet we’re quite happy about that”.
A spokesperson for Random House said: “We were disappointed to have not been able to reach an agreement with Joe about his ebook publishing, however we continue to publish his books in physical format.” The publisher has “no further books under contract” with Simpson at the moment, it said.
The Bookseller, which broke the news of Simpson’s departure from Random House, said the author was worth £105,000 to booksellers last year, down 38% on the year before.