A top author in deal with e-book retailer

Stephen R Covey, one of the most successful business authors of the last two decades, has moved e-book rights to two of his best-selling books from his print publisher, Simon & Schuster, a division of the CBS Corp, to Amazon.com for one year.

Amazon, maker of the popular Kindle e-reader and one of the biggest book retailers in the US, will have the exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, and a later work, ‘Principle-Centered Leadership’. Covey also plans to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon.

The move promises to raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system.

Covey is making his books available to Amazon through RosettaBooks, an electronic book publisher.

The margin of royalty

Arthur Klebanoff, chief executive, RosettaBooks, said Covey would receive more than half of the net proceeds that RosettaBooks took in from Amazon on these e-book sales. In contrast, the standard digital royalty from mainstream publishers is 25 per cent of net proceeds.

“There are superstars, and superstars are entitled to more,” Klebanoff said.
Sean Covey, a son of Stephen R Covey and chief innovation officer for Franklin Covey, a training and consulting firm that also publishes business books, said that the higher royalty rate was ‘a factor’ in the decision to switch to Amazon.

The elder Covey was also particularly attracted by Amazon’s plans to promote the e-book editions of both ‘7 Habits’ and ‘Principle-Centered Leadership’.

His move comes as publishers ratchet up their efforts to secure the digital rights to so-called backlist titles — books published many years, if not decades, ago. These books can be vitally important to publishing houses because they are reprinted year after year and provide a stream of guaranteed revenue without much extra marketing effort.

‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ originally published in hardcover in 1989, is a steady seller for Simon & Schuster. This year alone, it has sold 1,36,000 copies in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan, which generally tracks about 70 per cent of sales.

Many authors and agents say that because the contracts for older books do not explicitly spell out electronic rights, they reside with the author. Big publishing houses argue that clauses like ‘in book form’ or phrases that prohibit ‘competitive editions’ preclude authors from publishing e-books through other parties.

Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, declined to comment directly on Covey’s moves, but said, “Our position is that electronic editions of our backlist titles belong in the Simon & Schuster catalog, and we intend to protect our interests in those publications.”

Other publishers have moved to stake their claim on e-book rights for older titles. Random House sent a letter to dozens of literary agents stating that on all backlist books, it retained “the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats”.

Sean Covey said the decision to publish the e-book editions of the two older titles through RosettaBooks and Amazon was not a result of dissatisfaction with Simon & Schuster. He noted that both he and his father had continued to publish books through Simon & Schuster and would do so in the future.

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