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TECHNOLOGY

SEPTEMBER 26, 2010

Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books
By JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG

When literary agent Sarah Yake shopped around Kirsten Kaschock's debut novel "Sleight" this year, she thought it would be a shoo-in with New York's top publishers. "Her project was one of the most exemplary in the last decade or so," said Jed Rasula, who has taught in the English department at the University of Georgia since 2001. "I certainly thought she'd find a New York publisher."

Credit: Matt Wright-Steel for the Wall Street Journal

Author John Pipkin worries about the e-book business model: 'I've had to rethink my plans in terms of supporting my family full time as a writer.'

But the major New York publishers passed on "Sleight," a novel about two sisters trained in a fictional art form. Coffee House Press in Minneapolis, a small independent publisher, now plans to publish the book, offering Ms. Kaschock an advance of about $3,500—a small fraction of the typical advances once paid by the major publishing houses. It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers. Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less

Long before there were iPads and Kindles changing communication as we know it, there were other disruptive technologies and breakout information delivery systems. Like the printing press. And the

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D.20.Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books . Greco predicts.com/article/SB1000142405274870336970457.000 advances that established publishers typically paid in the past for debut literary fiction. to the publisher.27." says Ms. a fraction of the $50. publishers and agents say. See more at WSJ Topics: E-Books. "We aren't seeing a generation of readers coming along that supports writers today the way that young people supported J. Talese. The upshot: From an e-book sale. Talese/Doubleday imprint publishes Ian McEwan. to the author.000 to $100.com http://online. publishers say that average advances on literary fiction are already shrinking. "Advances are down.wsj. Margaret Atwood and John Pipkin.000 to $5. The lower revenue from e-books comes amidst a decline in book sales that was already under way. The new economics of the e-book make the author's quandary painfully clear: A new $28 hardcover book returns half. income for publishers. publishers pay authors advances against future book sales. a book-industry market researcher. Some book-industry experts say that lower e-book prices could increase overall unit sales eventually. an author makes a little more than half what he or she makes from a hardcover sale. and 15%.WSJ. digital books will overtake physical books. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption. Guttenberg Bible.63 billion units and are expected to decline to 1." Much as cheap digital-music downloads have meant that fewer bands can earn a living from record-company deals. estimates e-books could be 20% to 25% of total unit sales by the end of 2012. e-books account for an estimated 8% of total book revenue. on average. Under many e-book deals currently. who is married to the author Gay Talese.. you better have another source of income. The seemingly endless entertainment choices created by the Web have eaten into the time people spend reading books.47 billion this year and to 1. returning 70%.. or $14. or $9.99. WSJ's Marshall Crook offers a brief history of the book. whose Nan A." Mr. Although e-books are still in their infancy. says Albert Greco.43 billion by 2012. Mike Shatzkin. $1. a publishing consultant.000 for advances. To secure the rights to publish and distribute a book. "In terms of making a living as a writer. fewer literary authors will be able to support themselves as e-books win acceptance. But they offer. the author earns a royalty More on E-Books The ABCs of E-Reading 08/25/2010 'Vanity' Press Shakes Up Book Industry 06/03/2010 E-Books Rewrite Bookselling 05/21/2010 E-Book Pricing Put Into Turmoil 02/02/2010 WSJ Topics: E-Books 2 of 5 View Full Image 9/28/10 8:03 AM . Whether they will make up for the loss of hardcover income remains to be seen. or $4. "Eventually. and there aren't as many debuts as before. up from 3% to 5% a year ago. a well-known literary agent. to the publisher and typically 25% of that. The Future of the Book The Journal explores how digital technology is remaking the book industry." says Ira Silverberg. Sales of consumer books peaked in 2008 at 1.09. independent publishers are picking up the slack by signing promising literary-fiction writers. to the author. Currently. As a result. a digital book sells for $12. In some cases. E-books sales are exploding. or $2. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. After the book is published. Salinger and Philip Roth when they were starting out. The weak economy also is contributing to the slide." says Nan Talese. the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers.

Unlike traditional Credit: Matt Wright-Steel for the Wall Street Journal bookstores. many debut novels that would have won lucrative advances five years ago today are getting $15.com Inc. that is initially applied to the advance. Ms. 3 of 5 9/28/10 8:03 AM . "Freedom. Kirshbaum says he's found it difficult to sell a debut novel about small-town life because many editors are no longer committing to new writers with the expectation that their story-telling skills will evolve with the second. Mr. Celebrated author Jonathan Franzen." Mr. Learn More New York literary agent.com/article/SB1000142405274870336970457. publisher of Lagardere SCA's Grand Central Publishing.000 or less. It's a different story for debut fiction writers and those with less commercial potential.Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books . Raab says. including the 2009 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. is seeing significant e-book sales of his new novel.." says Laurence Kirshbaum.000 copies or less. said the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. In the past. "Woodsburner. he earns a percentage of every book sale.com http://online. "publishers are buying more selectively. Kirshbaum says. whose novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is part of a trilogy of top-selling crime books. third and fourth books.WSJ. Mr.. Amazon. "Writers like Anne Tyler and Elmore Leonard have to simmer quite a bit before they are going to boil. EXPERIENCE WSJ PROFESSIONAL Editors' Deep Dive: Tablets Bring New Chapter to Publishing GUARDIAN UNLIMITED In July. agents say. Although launching debut titles is one of the most rewarding aspects of publishing. Chromy was recently disappointed with the immediate response from editors for a debut novel he thought was exceptionally good. which is buying less debut fiction than in prior years. "There is a real danger that these people could be lost today.EXECUTIVE BRIEFING Print on the iPad Access thousands of business sources not available on the free web. Once the author recoups the advance. "The bar is higher. Pipkin teaches creative writing book set out on a table. Kirshbaum says. says Adam Chromy. Despite the acclaim and print sales of more than 10. where a browsing customer might discover an unknown Mr. and retailers are taking fewer titles. agents are being more selective with choosing clients." John Pipkin's 2009's debut novel. who might have print runs of 10. Big-name authors and novels that are considered commercial are increasingly in demand as e-book View Full Image readers gravitate toward best sellers with big plots. who has already built his reputation as one of America's premier literary-fiction writers. There will always be the lucky new author whose first novel ignites a hot auction." won several literary prizes. a Is Interactive the Future of Books? EWEEK Kindle for Android App Updated ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT . 31. "Monster best sellers are still the major drivers of profits for publishers and their authors—and these are precisely the books that are being snapped up by e-book buyers." says Jamie Raab. Brand-name authors with big marketing budgets behind them are having the greatest success thus far in the digital marketplace.wsj. a New York literary agent. e-bookstores generally aren't set up to allow readers to discover unknown authors. Mr.000.000 in the first two weeks after going on sale Aug. many literary authors were able to build careers because of such patience." The e-book is good news for some. But more often today. Publishers no longer have the patience to work through multiple modest successes." having sold well over 35. was the first writer to sell more than 1 million Kindle books.

previously unknown writer Diane Setterfield scored a seven-figure advance for her debut novel. Kindle e-books could outsell paperbacks in nine to 12 months. Not everyone believes that the shift to digital publishing is necessarily bad for writers. which controls the majority of digital-book sales with its Kindle reading device. a literary agent for the past 20 years. "I've had to rethink my plans in terms of supporting my family full time as a writer. Leslie Daniels. especially as e-books make up a larger percentage of sales. was thrilled to sell Creston Lea's recently published debut short-story collection. receives no benefits. it may be all to the good. says its Kindle e-book sales already are outpacing hardcover sales. fellowships and a partial advance he has received for his second book. Journal Community DISCUSS The concept of a book as a physical object that will last for decades if not centuries is about to be replaced. Pipkin.." says Mr. It's a concern moving forward. small independent publishers are becoming more popular options for new writers. says he cobbles together an income based in part on grants.L." The Authors Guild and some literary agents are urging publishers to raise the author's share of e-books to as high as 50%.D in English literature. Mr. Mr." to Turtle Point Press. publishers are resisting. Novelist E. Publishers worry that $12. Pipkin. Soon. Doctorow. "Woodsburner" has only sold 359 digital copies. The shakeout could help prune an overcrowded market. from the ground up. he doesn't receive employer contributions. "If there is a weeding out that's going to occur because of such difficulties. Texas. arguing that there is less overhead for a digital book." Mr.." As e-book sales accelerate. a key revenue producer for literary titles. "Unless you're a best-selling author. provides health benefits for his family. who has Ph. retirement and other things. Only a few years back. —Terry Traub Mr. "The Thirteenth Tale. His wife. Amazon. Thus far.." he says. who has taught creative writing for 23 years at the NYU Creative Writing Program.com http://online. "The Interpretation of Murder. Also under pressure are big chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders Group Inc. "I embrace anything that makes it possible for people to read what I've written. Pipkin. especially if it's somebody who might not have read the physical book." he says. a tenured professor.wsj. says the industry may be transforming away from big corporate-owned publishers back to a cottage industry like it was many years ago. 43." while Jed Rubenfeld was paid $800. "But the sales price of e-books is lower than the price of physical books. Meanwhile.Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books . much of our knowledge will be on electronic storage and future archeologists decoding our civilization may find nothing written down but a few hieroglyphs carved into the Egyptian pyramids. "Writers come up from nowhere. Amazon has said. Although he has an IRA.com/article/SB1000142405274870336970457." Mr.99 digital books that typically go on sale the same date as physical books will cut into their hardcover sales and their $14. their impact on physical book sales will grow. I don't see how it's possible for an author to get together enough income to pay for health insurance. "Wild Punch. who teaches an undergraduate creative-writing class at Southwestern University in Georgetown. Pipkin says the business model of e-books worries him. Pipkin says. which continue to close stores because of the digital shift and the woeful economy. but there they are. The stores have played a critical role in focusing attention on new voices through meet-and-greet readings and other promotions.99 paperback sales down the line.000 for his debut. so writers stand to earn less. Doctorow. 4 of 5 9/28/10 8:03 AM . and nobody is looking for them or asking for them.WSJ. says his goal is to find a full-time teaching position with benefits.

For non-personal use or to order multiple copies. who lives in Vermont.com 5 of 5 9/28/10 8:03 AM .. non-commercial use only. Inc.com Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company.000: $150." says Mr. Trachtenberg at jeffrey. Lea's $1.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870336970457.000 advance. builds electric guitars and writes on the side.250 on a big publisher advance of $75. Ms." The smaller advance has a ripple effect. Jonathan Rabinowitz. publisher of Turtle Point Press. "I can't make a living as a writer. Daniels. including 150 e-books. Her cut on Mr. Write to Jeffrey A.trachtenberg@wsj. who earns a 15% commission. used to make $11. The author. He described the performance as "encouraging. All Rights Reserved This copy is for your personal.djreprints. typical of the advances paid by small independents. But the author received only a $1.500 copies.. says "Wild Punch" has sold about 1. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. Lea. please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit www. but it feels great to have these stories out in the world.WSJ.Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books .000 or so.com http://online.

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