This morning, The Bookseller announced that Peter Cox at Redhammer has launched Project FreeAgent, wherein authors whose agencies are offering to publish their digital books can have a confidential review of the contract.

While I think that Cox is right in his concern, I think that since Project FreeAgent is being run through his agency, there’s still a bit of conflict. Agencies could charge that Cox is soliciting confidential information, and though I’m not familiar with UK trade info/intellectual property laws, this could be an issue.

I think a better solution may be, though, that a non-profit collection of agents sets a certain standard in digital contracts for agencies to use as a publisher. The Association of Author Representatives would be a good body for this (and who knows, they may be working on this already.)

By having a collection of agents and agencies work together on a fair contract for authors/agents, this would help eliminate the concern that agencies who publish their authors are no longer working in the best interest of their authors. The sanctioned agreement could be posted or available to authors through the AAR, who would then be able to compare what was sanctioned versus what was given to them. If their contract differs in royalties, advances or other major terms, they would have cause for concern.

The cynical might say, “Wouldn’t a group of agents just make the contract more fair to themselves, as they would all benefit?” But by having the agreement available to authors and industry persons, I’m positive there would be no shortage of blogs, articles, etc. if the industry community felt the agreement was predatory in any way. Would that mean that the AAR was making a business decision for a collection of agencies-as-publishers? Yes, I guess. But the same could be said of an agency’s boilerplate with a traditional publisher. This is an agreed upon business decision that must be retained in order to keep the business relationship.

In terms of royalties for authors whose agency is their publisher, here are some numbers to consider:

Many traditional publishers offer a 25% net ebook royalty. This is 25% of the monies they receive from the digital distributor (Amazon, iBookstore, B&N, etc.)

By publishing my own books, I receive from Amazon:
70% of a book priced between $2.99 and $9.99 (less a small 3 to 4 cent transmission fee)
35% of a digital book priced at $.99-$2.98, or over $9.99

From Barnes & Noble:
65% list of books priced between $2.99 and $9.99
40% list priced between $.99 and $2.98, or over $9.99

Some further questions:

If the agency becomes the publisher of the ebook, does the agent then forfeit the 15% commission on royalties? In other words, should the agency be paid twice – once in a percentage of profits as the publisher, and once as the agent? (I personally lean towards no, as it’d be hard to justify the commission if there’s a standard contract offered and there’s been no solicitation of other ebook publishers. What do you think?)

What could an agency-as-publisher offer to the client that they could not get by publishing the book themselves?

How do you keep the line separate, so that the primary agent is still working in their client’s best interest, no matter who the publisher is?

I wrote in a previous article about how agents could help authors publish their own backlist by recommending copyeditors, editors and cover artists, and by helping them negotiate a fair rate. What say you blog readers, would this be worth 15%?

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