The more I write on this series the more “boring” it seems to become. Why? Because I’m not revealing anything particularly new or uncovering the secret to getting published. However, the goal has been to talk about things that the traditional can do quite well. And this series ultimately is a journey through the innards of the publishing business.
Today we discuss infrastructure. I’m talking about the yawn-worthy topics of accounting, licensing, legal protection, and metadata.
A publisher must account for all revenue with the IRS and pay both corporate and state taxes. If you self-publish you have to handle this all on your own, and technically, if you travel to another state and sell your books in that state you should be paying the sales taxes in that state. The large publisher handles all of this for you and navigates the tax issues across state boundaries.
But beyond the simple tracking of money, another accounting function is price verification, sales validation, and sales report standardization. (An argument could be made that some of this is really more the responsibility of the sales department.) The publisher must make sure that every one of their titles is priced correctly at all their retail outlets, both brick-and-mortar and web stores. Then they have to have a way to validate that sales have actually been made and revenue has been received. And last they must have systems in place that standardize the information flow so that reports and audits can be handled without confusion or misunderstanding. If you are publishing on your own it can be a bit tough to get customer service at XYZ big chain to take your call and fix the info about your book, or to even get paid. I know of a situation where an independent author was doing rather well with their book until a major chain decided to “slow pay” and the author did not have the money to support the continued printing and distribution of their project. Without clout they were unable to fight successfully. (Sounds like an argument for ebooks, but that is another subject entirely!)
Anything related to foreign rights licensing can be incredibly complex. For example, if a book is licensed in English and is sold in Canada, but the license does not include Australia or South Africa, there has to be someone watching to make sure the territory boundaries are honored. We have a missionary friend in France who is frustrated by the inability to purchase certain English titles in France on his Kindle because the publisher only has North American English rights…and the European English rights have not yet been secured. I suspect we often forget that publishing is a global concern. Recently we received a royalty report at our agency for a client’s book that had been translated and sold in Korea. That Korean edition has sold nearly as many copies as the U.S. edition, and in less time. Amazing.
Some authors are very concerned with piracy and copyright violations. Sometimes this is very appropriate. I did have one person state that piracy is not the problem for most authors, instead the problem is obscurity. And yet you don’t want your book stolen and sold somewhere else. An author friend of mine discovered her entire Bible Study (published by a major publisher) online…verbatim…with another person’s name on it as author. Would you want that to happen with your book?
I attended a presentation last year on “Digital Initiatives” made by very smart people from Hachette. They discussed their use of “Attributor Monitors” to scour the Internet for illegal versions of their book titles. I was shocked to hear that they discover and send out 1,500 take-down notices to illegal sites, every month (saying, in essence, take the illegal book down from your site, or else). Fifteen hundred! They get better than 99% compliance with the request, worldwide. (It is understandable that they would have that level of trouble since Hachette publishes the Twilight franchise.) I suspect that when a company like Hachette contacts the illegal site with their powerful legal team, the offending site owner is willing to comply. But if you tried to do it on your own, you would be ignored.
They also work very hard to protect their digital properties from theft by using a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM). And since there are multiple platforms for ebooks this can be somewhat complex. (Mobi for the Kindle; e-pub for the Nook and iBookstore; and PDF are just a few examples.) One recent complaint from a Kindle user showed how this worked. The Kindle user was highlighting and clipping numerous quotes from their ebook, but was informed that they had exceeded the limit for clipping. This was a DRM limit set by the publisher to prevent a reader from copying and pasting the entire book and possibly distributing the contents via the Internet. Of course someone could just re-type the entire book and have the same result, but the publisher was at least attempting to make it harder to “steal.” Obviously, in this particular case, the publisher had set the clipping threshold too low and offended a user.
Another legal protection issue is the fact that we have a litigious society. Lawsuits can be very expensive and lengthy to process. A famous example is the $136 million dollar defamation lawsuit brought against Harvest House and one of their books. The suit took six years to be resolved, with Harvest House and the authors being exonerated. (Read the complete report here.) I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to have a strong legal team on my side than to have to go it alone.
Last in today’s line-up is Metadata management. This is the information filled out by the publisher for each book they publish. When you search for a book on Amazon.com there is a list of titles that pop up by other writers that would appeal to the viewer of this specific book. How does Amazon.com know this? It is an algorithm based on the information found beyond just the title author and price info and is found in the metadata. The Book Industry Study Group has provided a Metadata Best Practices guide in which they identify thirty-one key pieces of data that are necessary for every book.
Hanna Johnson, in her article “How to Sell More Books with Metadata” wrote, “It’s not just about ISBN numbers and titles anymore. Enhanced metadata can increase discoverability of books and provide marketing information to the entire publishing supply chain.” (If you want a simplified breakdown on this issue, read Carla King’s excellent article “A Self-Publisher’s Guide to Metadata for Books.”) But now Enhanced metadata is becoming more critical. That made me laugh the first time I heard that statement because most folks don’t even know “metadata” much less an “enhanced” version of it!
Let me ask you a question (those of you who have read all 1,000 words of this post). Was any of this “news” to you? Have you considered some of these complexities before? Or, in your opinion, does it even matter?