John Locke Signs Print Distribution Deal With Simon & Schuster

John Locke – the first self-publisher to join the Kindle Million Club – has signed a print distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.

Naturally, there has been some hysterical reaction either painting John Locke a “sell out”, or declaring that this deal is proof that self-publishing is a flash in the pan and that traditional publishing is where it’s at.

Neither is close to being true.

First of all, and most importantly, John Locke is not giving up any rights. He has not signed a “publishing” deal, but a distribution deal.

He will remain the publisher of the print editions. Simon & Schuster will distribute them. And he retains complete control of the digital editions – no deal has been struck there.

Rather than abandoning the indie path, John Locke has leveraged his huge self-publishing sales to strike a highly unusual print deal.

It’s extremely rare for a publisher – especially a major player like Simon & Schuster – to sign a “print only” deal of any kind. The reason for this is obvious: print is in decline and digital is exploding.

Normally, a print deal will involve the publisher licensing the rights to sell your book, for which they pay you royalties (and often an advance on royalties) in return.

This is very different. Essentially, as Mike Shatzkin points out, John Locke is hiring Simon & Schuster to distribute the books.

Details are scant at the moment. We don’t know if John Locke is paying them a percentage for their distribution services, or a flat fee, and we don’t know who is going to cover things like printing costs.

Either way, this is a fine deal for John Locke, and a progressive approach from Simon & Schuster. They get a piece of the print action from a bankable self-publisher who was unwilling to sign a traditional publishing deal, and he gets access to the vast majority of readers who haven’t made the switch to e-books yet.

Everyone will make money out of this. Which is why it won’t be the last deal of its kind.

Many successful self-publishers aren’t interested in a traditional deal which forces them to give up the vast majority of their digital royalties. Indeed, many of those who signed with Amazon’s imprints said that they wouldn’t have signed with anyone else, with the vastly increased digital royalties on offer being a major factor.

There position is understandable. They have built up a huge readership own their own, and they are loathe to hand that over to a publisher for a small slice of the digital pie.

Even though the vast majority of readers are still in print, self-publishers know which way the market is headed, and often don’t want to be locked into a deal with poor digital royalty rates just to gain access to print readers (whose numbers will continue to fall).

If this deal is a watershed, if the large publishers are now prepared to sign print-only deals, or distribution-only deals, there will be a lot of self-publishers interested.

It makes sense for publishers too – at least in the short term. They have control of the print distribution network, and they can produce quality physical books at low prices. They also know that the very best self-publishers are experts in targeting their readers, and selling to them.

Now, I don’t expect a flood of similar deals. I think it will be, as Mike Shatzkin points out, restricted to self-publishers who have already established a significant audience.

But it’s becoming clear that the ever-increasing viability of self-publishing is spawning radical new models for writers and publishers.

And, of course, it should be noted that John Locke would never have been offered this deal – his agent was approached by Simon & Schuster – if he hadn’t self-published in the first place.

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In other news, we spoke a couple of weeks ago about a class-action lawsuit, alleging the price-fixing of e-books, filed against Apple, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin.

Four similar claims have now been lodged by a variety of law firms.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m in no position to judge the relative merits of any of these claims, but my layperson’s interpretation would be that these other firms are vying for control of the class action (and, naturally, the fees that would come with it).

This would seem to indicate that these other firms think this suit has legs.

One to watch.

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A belated thank you to Shannon Chenoweth at Sift Book Reviews for a superb review of my science fiction short Transfection. Much appreciated.

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Finally, the second in what will be a regular series of columns for IndieReader.com has just been published, called A Revolution for Readers.

It talks about what all the massive changes in the publishing industry mean for the people that matter the most, but are discussed the least: the readers. Check it out here.