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Publishing Arrangements

( Originally Published 1883 )



WHEN the author and the publisher have agreed between them that a work is to be published, it remains to be decided under which of the several publishing arrangements the publication shall be undertaken. The following are the methods most generally in use in this country.

First, the author sells his manuscript outright for a fixed sum, the publisher becoming the absolute owner of the copyright of the work, and being at liberty to print, without any further remuneration to the author, as many editions of it as he may find demand for. Under such a purchase, unless there is special provision to the contrary, the publisher is also at liberty to transfer the copyright and the right to publish to any other publisher, the author retaining no control over the publishing arrangements or the form of the editions printed.

This ownership, on the part of the publisher or his assignee, is, of course, limited by the term of the copyright he has purchased—twenty-eight years,—at the end of which term the author, or, if the author be dead, his widow or child, regains the right to publish the material, and by se-curing a renewal of the copyright for the renewal term of fourteen years, regains also the exclusive control of it, and is again at liberty to make what publishing arrangements may seem desirable. (For details concerning the law of copyright, see a later chapter.)

Under the second method the author retains the copyright of the work, and receives from the publisher, as royalty, a certain percentage of the retail price of the copies sold.

In this, as in the first case, the publisher assumes the expenses of manufacture and publication, and in consideration of this outlay, which can, as a rule, not be reimbursed from a sale of less than one thousand copies, the first thou-sand copies sold are frequently exempted from copyright. In other words, the publisher and the author begin to make money out of the book at the same time.

The royalty is paid simply as a commutation of profits, and it is in order, therefore, for the payments not to begin until the profits begin. If less than one thousand copies are sold of a work of current literature, there is, as a rule, a deficiency on the publisher's investment.

This deficiency would, of course, be increased if the author received a royalty on all the copies sold, and it seems reasonable that, if the publisher has consented to assume the risk and investment of bringing a work before the public, he should not, if the venture bring loss instead of profit, be called upon to swell such loss by a compensation to the author. However much labor may have been invested in a work, it seems equitable that if it does not prove itself capable of earning any thing, the author shall receive nothing for it.

The limit of one thousand copies to be excepted from copyright became customary when a sale of that number would, as a rule, return the first investment. It is the case to-day, however, that with novels and other works of light literature, the very low prices at which they are published necessitate a sale of several thousand copies to return the first cost.

The percentage of the retail price paid as royalty varies somewhat, according to the nature of the work and the probable extent of its sale. It is made smaller for books sold through canvassers and for books for children than for current publications, for the reason that for those the wholesale prices are lower and the margin of profit out of which the royalty is paid is less.

A customary royalty for a work of current literature is ten per cent., which for a book published at $1.50 brings to the author fifteen cents a copy, or $150 per thousand copies.

It has sometimes been rather hastily imagined that under such a copyright arrangement the share of the publisher was a dollar and thirty-five cents as against the fifteen cents conceded to the author.

A moment's calculation will, however, show how fat-this is from being the case.

The publisher receives from the wholesale dealer for a book published at $ 1.50 not $1.50, but 90 cts., and sometimes (on special arrangement for works of fiction and books for young people) only 75 cts.

After deducting from this the cost of manufacturing the volume, and the proportion belonging to each copy sold of the cost of the copies printed and not sold, and of the stereo-typing, press copies, advertising, etc., there would rarely remain as much net profit as 30 cts., and of this, 15 cts. would go to the author.

In fact, the customary royalty of ten per cent has apparently been calculated on the basis of securing for the author about half the net profits.

Under a third publishing arrangement the above method is practically reversed. The author assumes for himself the cost of manufacturing the work, remaining the owner not only of the copyright, but also of the stereotype plates, if any have been made, and of the copies printed. Instead of receiving a royalty of ten per cent, he pays the publisher a royalty of ten per cents as a commission for taking charge of the publication and the sale of the book.

The first step in such an arrangement, after the publisher-has decided that he would be ready to associate his imprint with the work, is to have estimates prepared showing the cost of printing the book in the model selected.

When the author has accepted the publisher's estimate, it is customary for him to advance one half of the amount calculated as the cost of the first edition, the remaining half being payable when the printing is completed and the book is ready for publication. The stereotype plates and the edition printed are then the property of the author, the books being consigned to the publisher for sale. The publisher usually renders account to the author for copies sold, at fifty per cent. of the published price. He sells the book to the wholesale (distributing) dealers at sixty per cent. of this price, and reserves ten per cent. as his commission for taking charge of the sales. Thus, for a book published at $1.50, the publisher will receive from the wholesale dealer 90 cts., or $900 per 1,000 copies, and will pay to the author 75 cts., or $750 per 1,000 copies, reserving 15 cts. per copy, or $150 per 1 ,000, as his commission. The author's profit is the difference between the $750 he receives and the cost of manufacturing his 1,000 copies. This cost will, it must be borne in mind, be considerably less for a second and for subsequent lots of 1,000 copies than for the first edition, as with this must be included the first cost of the composition, the stereotyping, the illustrations, etc. Such further editions are printed as the demand may justify and the author may agree to. As a rule, no further payment for these is required from the author, as in the event of the first edition having been disposed of, and the accounts for it not having been closed, the publisher will have in his. hands more than sufficient proceeds from its sale to provide for the cost of further supplies.

It is customary with authors' books for the publisher to make such outlay for advertising as the author may have authorized, the amount of the same being charged against the author and deducted from the proceeds paid him for sales.

The books usually published under this commission arrangement are books possessing literary or scientific interest, and with which the publisher is therefore ready to associate his imprint, but concerning the probable demand for which he finds reason to be doubtful. It is possible enough, of course, for his judgment to be at fault on this point, and it has occurred often enough that "authors' books " have secured a more remunerative sale than many of the popularity of which their publishers were very confident. The history of literature also presents many instances of authors whose books afterward became famous and profitable, being obliged to advance the cost of printing their first books. The modest little volume bearing on its title-page the names of A. and C. Tennyson, published in 1827 (copies of which are now exceedingly rare and valuable), was paid for by the two young poets, while Alfred Tennyson is now reputed to receive from his copyrights not less than $50,000 a year.

A fourth arrangement is a combination of the second and the third. Under this, the author assumes the cost and retains the ownership of the stereotype plates of his volume (including the illustrations, if there are any), while the outlay for the paper, printing, binding, etc., is borne by the publisher. The cost of ordinary advertising and that of the copies given to the press for review is, under this method, usually met by the publisher, but if any special advertising outlay is planned," it is either charged to the author, or provided for under some special arrangement.

The author, owning his stereotype plates, receives from the publisher for their use, a royalty in addition to that which he receives for his copyright, and usually equal to the latter. Thus, if the copyright were calculated at ten per cent., the royalty for plates and copyright would be twenty per cent., or for a book published at $1.50, thirty cents per copy, or $300 per thousand.

There are certain conveniences in retaining the ownership of the plates of a book, which cause many authors to prefer this method. If any changes, corrections, or additions are considered by the author essential or desirable before the printing of further editions, it is much easier for the author to arrange for these to his satisfaction if he is the owner of the plates, than if it is first necessary to decide with the publisher how the cost of such alterations ought to be divided. It is also a convenience for an author who, at the close of a contract with one publisher, desires to transfer his works to some other house, to be in a position to transfer his plates at the same time, instead of being obliged first to arrange for the purchase of them, and possibly to combat some difference of opinion as to their market value. In the event of a publishing firm becoming bankrupt, the stereotype plates belonging to them are of necessity disposed of to the highest bidder, and an author, not owning his plates, might undergo the annoyance of seeing his books transferred to some firm whom he would never of his own option have selected as his publishers.

And finally, an author who owns his plates as well as his copyrights, feels that his literary property is more fully under his control, as part of his estate, to devise and bequeath as seems best to him.

A fifth publishing method, which is not often employed in this country, is what is called the half-profit arrangement. The author contributes the book, in which he has invested his labor, and the publisher invests the capital needed to. manufacture the book, and the machinery and business connection needed to bring it before the public, and the profits„ if any accrue, are divided equally between them. The principal objection to this method is the many occasions to which it gives rise for differences of opinion between author and publisher. It is not easy, in connection with the some-what complicated machinery for publishing, advertising, and distributing books, to determine with perfect equity and precision just what proportion of the general expenditure properly belongs to any one book ; that is to say, just what is the actual cost of publication, and, of course, until this can be determined, it is not practicable to arrive at the sum of the net profits which are to be divided. The proper amount to be expended in advertising and in " pushing (to use a business term) any one book may also easily be a cause of an honest difference of opinion, the publisher being naturally averse to investing any dollars that do not seem likely to be repaid, while the author is disposed to consider every dollar wisely invested that serves to bring his writings more widely to the attention of the public.

Publishing contracts under all the above methods, excepting the first, are usually drawn for terms of years, ranging from two to ten. These contracts usually provide, among other things, that the author, or the representative of the author who comes to treat with the publishers, is the absolute owner of the copyright of the work in question, and of the right to publish the same, and that he will assume the cost of any lawsuits or other measures which his publisher may be obliged to undertake to defend such copyright or publishing right against infringement. They provide, further, that the work contains nothing libellous, or in any way defamatory, and that the author will make good to the publisher any loss or expense to which he may be put in the event of any thing libellous being found in or charged against the work.

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