Mormon Publishing: Four Trends to Watch

It will become even harder for Mormon authors to make a living. In the publishing industry, we used to say that fewer than one percent of authors make their living solely from writing. (I am not one of these, by the way.) I haven't seen any recent statistics, but that figure has to be down to a fraction of a percent now. That's because of the aforementioned explosion of books, of course, but it's also due to the changing royalty structures of the last decade or two.

In the good old days, authors would receive a 15 percent royalty of the list price of the book, so if your book retailed at $20, you'd get three bucks. Sweet. As margins got tighter in the book industry, many publishers began to pay 15 percent of the net price of the book, which is half or even less than half of 15 percent of the list price. (The net price is what's left over for the publisher after the bookseller's substantial discount.) But we're not stopping there. This summer I saw a book contract that offered the author -- wait for it - 5 percent of net receipts. In our $20 list price example above, that would mean the author gets just fifty cents for every book sold. And to make this math even more depressing, consider this: now that ebooks are rapidly gaining consumers (last month Amazon announced that ebook sales had outstripped hardcovers for the first time), and consumers have come to expect that ebooks can be had for the enticing low price of $9.99, an author might get even less. It's enough to drive a Mormon author to drink.

So, there's good news and bad news. The word on the street these days in publishing is that information wants to be free. One thing is certain: there will be an upsurge of the number of overall titles about the Mormon experience.


Jana Riess spent nine years as the Religion Book Review Editor at Publishers Weekly and now serves as an acquisitions editor for Westminster John Knox Press. She is the author or co-author of eight books and blogs at Flunking Sainthood on Beliefnet.

8/9/2010 4:00:00 AM
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