Shannon Stacey

Short money?

Over on Romancing the Blog, Tara Gelsomino wrote an interesting post about the new upperbacks. (Which, while they say designed for comfortable reading, actually make my thumb cramp.) I nodded my head along with her, until I came to this bit (bolding for emphasis is mine):

Strike that. It will enable them to BUY less. And go to their libraries more, borrow from friends more and–what’s most worrisome for the industry–turn to the Walmarts and the Overstock.coms more. Which means less royalties for authors and less authors able to live comfortably on a writer’s salary. Which means the gradual extinction of genre writers…which means… you get the idea.

That gave me pause. A while back, the question of authors being financially penalized for the deep discounting Walmart offers (although my Target beats them) was asked on the eHQ boards. Several authors responded, and they said they’re paid royalties based on the cover price, regardless of how much of a beating Walmart’s willing to take for the sake of volume.

Considering that being able to get your book into a Walmart can lift your sales to new heights, I don’t think that readers buying their books at Walmart’s discounted prices signals the doom of the self-supporting romance author.

But I could be wrong.

16 comments to “Short money?”

  1. Charlene
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 8:55 am · Link

    This is something I wondered about myself; I just bought a Blaze at Walmart and my jaw dropped when I saw the sticker price. “How can this be good for the author?” was my first thought. But if they are in fact getting the full cover price royalty, then the volume is probably balancing the difference for publishers. (I’m pretty sure Walmart isn’t the one taking the loss!)

  2. Allison Brennan
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 9:03 am · Link

    Hi Shannon! It’s true, at this point authors get royalties based on the cover price. The reason Walmart can discount their books so heavily is that they buy in such large quantities that the publisher gives them extra discounts. Also, they don’t need to make as large a profit per book as bookstores to keep the doors open.

    Consider the 30-40% discounts the big bookstores like BN and Border’s put on the NYT books. They are not making a lot of money on those books. BUT they are bringing people into the store by offering an attractive discount to the books people buy most. I’m sure there’s some product analysis that shows that for every discounted book BN sells, they sell XX in merchandise or non-discounted books.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it.

  3. Karen Templeton
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 9:55 am · Link

    Nope, you’re not wrong — we get paid on cover price (for North American retail), no matter who sells the book or how much it’s discounted. In fact, that’s one of my “selling points,” as it were, to readers who need to watch their pennies but still want to help support writers by buying new — if you can find the book discounted in Walmart or Target or Sam’s, go for it.

    I sure do. :thumb:


  4. Shannon McKelden
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 12:00 pm · Link

    Thanks for answering this question, everyone! I asked a published friend one day, and she didn’t know. I bought her book at Walmart and felt bad when I thought about it later. She couldn’t answer that question, but later said she thought it was addressed in contracts. When I received my contract, I didn’t see any mention of it. Glad to see that the discounting doesn’t seem to affect the author. After all, if I can buy at Walmart and pay less, I can buy more books! :-)
    Shannon McKelden (the other Shannon)

  5. Diana
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 1:03 pm · Link

    It’s my understanding that when any retailer puts an item on sale — from a bookseller to a grocery store having a deal on day-old bread — the one who gets less money is the retailer who puts it on sale.

    However, when we get to the point where publishers make a different edition of a book for a particular market (which you see a lot in the textbook market) that is going to sell at a different price, that’s what effects the author’s royalties.

  6. Natalie
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 2:10 pm · Link

    I just wanted to add the footnote that many e-publishers who also publish in paperback will pay the author a higher royalty percentage, but on amount received, rather than on cover price. So Walmart doesn’t carry my books, but does, and does, and (hypothetically speaking :wink:) a 10% royalty of 40% of the cover price isn’t very much per book. STILL–it’s more than a percentage off zero, and every sale counts!

  7. Kate
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 3:19 pm · Link

    :wtf: my book was in wal-mart and my life didn’t change nearly enough….wasn’t that the subject? huh? tangent time?

    I think that with a lot of publishers, sales at the book club rates (the publisher’s book club, I mean) provide lower royalties. That’s true of Kensington.

  8. Karen Templeton
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 4:39 pm · Link

    Yep, bookclub — or “direct” sales — are at a lower royalty rate for Har/Sil, too. Less than half, in fact. Same with many foreign editions, which are a third of the NA rate, on often lower cover prices. I think some of my translations pay a whopping two or three cents a book. :eyebrow:

    Karen T.

  9. Anna Lucia
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 5:07 pm · Link

    Over here, it’s a beeeg issue. But it’s not about royalties, it’s about the health of the industry as a whole. The discounts that the big stores are all but blackmailing the publishers into are crippling the publishers.

    In the UK, publishers are 7% worse off than they were five years ago. Considering all industries want to see growth, that’s not good news for anyone.

    The supermarkets over here aren’t interested in new authors, category romance, established authors’ back catalogues…. in fact, the only thing they’re interested in stocking is big name authors who are selling big NOW. Everything else gets short shrift, up to and including boxes of books being returned that never made it onto the shelf. And we all know how returns look on a royalty sheet. Ugly.

    What this means for writers is that it’s harder than ever to sell. Publishers are having to make fewer books work harder. If they are less profitable, then they have less money to spend on new authors, less grace to extend to building existing authors, and less money to spend on marketing. Unless you can sell big from the first book you’d better hope your publisher has an excellent attitude to building an author’s career, and plenty of confidence when Marketing is baying at your door.

    Some of those books that make it into supermarkets are selling at a loss. Now, sure, the volume makes it acceptable to some. But at the end of the day, selling something for less than it costs to produce devalues the product, and destabilises the industry.

  10. Anna Lucia
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 5:10 pm · Link

    Okay, that was maybe a *smidge* more intense than I was aiming for… ggg

  11. Shannon
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 7:30 pm · Link

    Yep, bookclub — or “direct” sales — are at a lower royalty rate for Har/Sil, too. Less than half, in fact.

    I probably shouldn’t ask this, but…:shrug:

    So, would those be the “subscriptions” they push? Because, if so and if they succeeded in luring the majority of their readers to subscribe, it sounds like they’d be rolling in it, while you’re adding a part time job asking ‘Do you want fries with that?’ just to make what you used to. Not a very author-friendly little clause there. :eyebrow:

  12. Shannon
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 7:58 pm · Link

    No, you’re absolutely right, Anna. (I was in the middle of cooking dinner and didn’t have time to read it all. *g*)

    You go into my Walmart and there probably a dozen different Nora books, most of Patterson’s, a handful of Linda Howards’ books, multiple copies of bestsellers’ backlists, and maybe a dozen additional single titles. (And, in ours, an inexplicably massive stockpile of Leigh Greenwoods) They’re willing to overstock the big names in order to sell, and it severely limits what they order from other authors.

    Speaking of returns…Whether I go into my Walmart or my Borders or my grocery store or even my drugstore, I see tables and tables of unsold HP 6. Can you imagine the return count there?

  13. Karen Templeton
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 9:21 pm · Link

    Yep, those are the subscriptions. We H/S authors have been pushing for years to have the royalty rate raised on those to no avail. :cry: Sometimes the direct sales (in units sold) is higher than retail units sold, sometimes it’s dramatically lower (I’ve seen no rhyme nor reason to my numbers over four years and more than a dozen books for SIM.) A sidebar problem we had with the bookclub is that the books then show up at the UBS or on e-Bay used before they even hit the shelves, although from what I can tell not in numbers significant enough to severely impact the retail sales. The problem has also bee mitigated somewhat by their reducing the timeframe between bookclub and retail distribution to one month, instead of nearly three.

    However, despite less-than-ideal terms (for us!) on some issues, Har/Sil’s massive distribution machine means equally massive exposure for all of us. At least it is still possible to live off of H/S earnings (albeit not wildly), depending on how many books a year you write/sell (at least 2, although 3-4 is better) and the line or imprint you write for. Many series books are higher earners than a lot of midlist single titles.

    I gather Walmart book departments vary widely from store to store, depending on the locale and demand. “My” Walmart has a fair number of midlist ST’s (maybe upwards of five dozen? I’m trying to visualize the display), lead STs are in a separate display, and the backlists are spine out in two rows running underneath the other stuff. Lots of inspirational offerings, both fiction and non-fiction, which makes sense for this area, and a good number of mainstream/thriller/mysteries/westerns, too. No Barnes and Noble, but not bad. My Sam’s is pitiful, however — only the “top” hardcovers (no Crusie, no SEP, but they do have the new Evanovich), and the paperback offerings are from hunger. Used to be better, but I guess they didn’t sell, so watchgonnado?

    And I hear ya on the HPs (just blogged about my experience with HPVI, actually — yes, that’s the sound of me caving, although it’s experimental at the mo). Not sure EVERY store thought EVERYONE would buy the book from THEM, but oh, well. :shrug:


  14. Shannon
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 9:30 pm · Link

    You have a blog??? :thumb: :cheer:

    That’s the thing with H/S. No matter the flaws and downsides, they’re a promo machine, and as…Heather McAllister (???) said in a workshop (paraphrasing), they’re the closest you can come to a regular, steady paycheck in writing. And their promo-deliciousness appeals to the introvert in me. :nod:

    I’m VERY aggravated with my Walmart. Of course for the already listed reasons. Plus they have about 6 billion Mary Kate & Ashley books hogging up the space. The book “section” is one side of an aisle. About a third of that is dedicated to magazines, then a big section is for the “new listers” and an even bigger section for the self-help. (I wonder if we, as a town, should be insulted. :crazy:). So the romance section is four shelves high and maybe six books wide. And with the new Next, LI Suspense, etc lines to highlight, they’ve cut out my regular lines.

    Although…I bet my Walmart sucks even worse if you’re a guy—especially if you’re a guy who doesn’t like James Patterson. :shrug:

  15. Karen Templeton
      · August 22nd, 2005 at 11:37 pm · Link

    I indeed have a blog. It’s all of three days old. I was shamed into it. :hide:

    My valiant webmistress sent me to a site that will “count” my visitors for me, but trying to figure it out is giving me Algebra II flashbacks. Which is not a good thing.

    So I’m over here playing with your smilies, ’cause they make me happy, yes they do. :nod:


  16. Anna Lucia
      · August 23rd, 2005 at 3:08 am · Link

    ggg @ Karen. I swear you and blogging were inevitable….

    The vast majority of supermarkets over here are stocking a range comparable to Shan’s local Walmart – not the names, but the size of the range.

    And I’m told that quite recently a Harl Mills and Boon (Richmond) Exec type told a room full of M&B authors that it was unreasonable to expect to earn a living writing for them.

    The times they are a changing. Or have been a changing.

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