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.


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.


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


Finally, the second in what will be a regular series of columns for 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.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

46 Replies to “John Locke Signs Print Distribution Deal With Simon & Schuster”

    1. Oh that’s great Lindsay, thank you very much. Nice article.

      Your short is finally at the top of my gargantuan TBR pile, and I’m reading it next, am looking forward to it, and will post a review.

  1. This is the first traditional publishing/indie deal I’ve heard about that makes sense! A really good deal for John Locke. Physical distribution in “any” industry is always the sticky part, most often near impossible without experienced help, an insider. I hope this kind of writer/publisher relationship becomes the norm. An enlightening and encouraging post, David. Thanks.

    1. Not only does it makes sense for John Locke, it makes great sense. Even without knowing how much he’ll get paid for the print copies (or if John Locke is taking the risk himself). Why not? Having a pallet of books near the register at any big box retailer will help with long term name recognition.


      1. Exactly. All those books in all those bookstores won’t just be opportunities to sell John Locke books, they will also be advertisements for John Locke and his books. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated, especially to that demographic who don’t shop for books online.

  2. I wish John the best of luck and can only hope that other self-published writers get such an opportunity to reach larger audiences while still maintaining the majority of control. Good for him!

  3. This is why John Locke is successful. He makes the right decisions. You go John, and keep opening the doors to the future. This is excellent. I would have never thought to do this.

  4. Congrats to Locke. Funny thing about people who cry “sellout” is that it NEVER comes from successful writers. People who have made it understand that sometimes you need to compromise or search for creative ways to build your empire. And as you point out, from what we know of the deal, this isn’t even a negative for Locke in any way.

    I’m curious if the print deal will affect John’s digital pricing of .99 cents. I doubt he would turn away from the thing that got him where he is, so probably not. But given the publishing industry’s take on low digital pricing cannibalizing print sales, there must be some concern from the publisher.

    Perhaps if S & S finds print success with books that are .99 in digital format, other big publishers will start pricing authors’ digital content lower. Which would lead to an interesting situation … Locke says that part of his success is because his books are so ridiculously low priced that people took a chance and saw his stuff as a huge bargain compared to $10 eBooks from Known Authors.

    So if the price difference between Known Authors and Indie Authors were less, would that cut into the success of lesser known Indie Authors? Could be an interesting strategy for big publishers to take to get rid of one of the biggest pieces of leverage Indies have over them.

    1. If the price of John Locke’s e-books changes, that will be his decision alone – he has made no deal with regard to digital.

      However, I can’t see large publishers pricing all books at that price point – they simply have too many overheads. It’s only viable (in terms of making a living off it) for a very small number of indies as it is.

      I think we will see lower priced e-books from large publishers in the future, but not that low. Even the backlist stuff they are putting out is $4.99 to $7.99 (or even higher).

      1. I can’t imagine Big Pubs would ever go as low as Indies – certainly not .99 cents. But I think they could could strategically price low to harm Indies at key times of the year, such as the holiday season when people get their new Kindles, iPads, and Nooks and are looking to stock their new digital libraries.

        Sustainable? No. But could they do some damage? Maybe. Like the big box store that moves into town and prices everything so low until the competition is gone, then raises prices back up when the competition is gone. While I don’t think it’s likely that Big Pubs would engage in such extreme predatory pricing, I’ve seen companies do crazier things to attempt to harm competitors or grab market share, so I’m not ruling it out.

        1. That’s exactly what I see happening.

          The sales we saw during the summer on Amazon really had an effect on indies. I’m sure we will see a lot more of that. I’m guessing post-Christmas, which is traditionally slow for publishing, but when indies have seen huge gains.

      2. @David Wright:“But I think they could could strategically price low to harm Indies at key times of the year, such as the holiday season when people get their new Kindles, iPads, and Nooks and are looking to stock their new digital libraries.

        Almost certain. But that is like trying to scoop the river to stop the flooding… It works until it doesn’t. The big box retailers work because they have low overhead per unit shipped. The publishers do not have that advantage, so they cannot sustain a price war nor forgo a significant amount of revenue.

        Hence they will have to be strategic. David Gaughran, our host, noted that Sunshine deals. Really smart on everyone’s part… But a lower volume month. If it was to squash indies, it would have been in July. Instead, it was a gasp of air for the publishers.


        1. When Amazon ran the Sunshine Deals promotion in June, they took the hit on the discount (i.e. the publishers still received their original price for the book, and Amazon swallowed the difference with the sale price). However, when they ran a similar promotion in July, not only did a greater number of publishers sign up with a greater number of titles, there were plenty of rumors that Amazon didn’t have to swallow the price difference this time.

          That would seem to indicate to me that publishers are beginning to realize that lower-price points are the way forward – at least for limited-time sales. I expect to see more of this.

          Someone had an interesting piece (I can’t remember where) on which publishers benefited most from the sales. I seem to remember that it was HarperCollins who blew all the others out of the water. I wonder if they had lower priced books, or whether they picked “bigger” books for the sale. I wish I could remember where I saw that survey – I believe it was the blogger who was tracking the percentage of indie books in the Top 100 all year – if that jogs anyone’s memory.

      3. Publishers will compete, but they have a lot riding on themselves that indies don’t. They have the overhead of the company, but they also have stockholders. People investing want RETURN on their money. So publishers have quite an uphill battle here.

        Either way, it’s good for writing, it’s good for books.

        I still envision a system where publishers can be publishers or distributors. It’s a way for a win-win kind of deal, like John achieved here.

        For those deals Amazon runs – yeah, they happen. But remember, if you’re an author doing it on your own, you’re a business owner. And you need to be able to compete all the time. Look at cafe’s that stay open when McDonald’s, D&D, and Starbucks sell coffee. Are they right across the street? Not usually, but they do survive.

        Anywho – sorry to ramble here – it is always interesting to see the next deal and the next movement.


    1. I’m not 100% clear on the timeline, but I believe he signed with Dystel & Goderich (who also represent Joe Konrath) in April. I’m not sure who approached whom there, but I doubt John Locke was short of offers.

      Many self-publishers have agents to deal with subsidiary rights: film, audio, translations etc.; and some have agents with an eye on a potential print deal.

  5. For those that shout that people like John Locke are “sell outs” for going with a traditional publisher – if a traditional publisher dangled a check with enough zeroes on it in front of them, they’d jump at it in a heartbeat. Any self-publisher should, however, they need to be sure that the contract is truly equitable and lucrative for all involved and not mostly the publisher.

  6. Very, very cool news! I kind of saw this coming – but many, many yrs down the line. Not now!:) Exciting to see that more and more paths are opening up for those who have the opportunity to take things further than they’ve ever been. I have to agree that this sort of deal wouldn’t happen unless the author had a significant audience already. But I guess that’s only reasonable, and – again – a good business decision for all parties. Good for Locke:) Hmmmm, I wonder what other innovations will be peeping out at us from just over the publishing horizon…

  7. p.s. nice review for Let’s Get Digital on ‘Pixel of Ink’ btw, David. I’m still in the middle of reading the book – not because it’s boring, but because I’m reading a thousand and one books right now and finding it hard to complete any at all…a common problem with me:) I’ve just entered the section featuring self-published authors though and am finding it very inspiring so far! Esp useful when I can’t concentrate on my own writing; those snippets of authors who’ve made it/are making it sure give lots of inspiration in such moments. Hmmmm, I think I underestimated how strong an influence such stories can get in motivating one to just get on with the work:) Good stuff.

  8. I think John Locke has the right idea. This is what the most successful self-publishers will do–partner with big publishers for subsets of their services.

    Why did John Locke partner with S&S? Because he doesn’t have good access to the print distribution and sales channel. Those doomed “traditional” publishers do. It’s one of the services they’ll be offering self-publishers with big, *proven* success, like John Locke. And it’s a profitable service, too.

  9. If It weren’t for terrible internet service, I would have beat you to this one today, David. Drat the luck! Another great blog. I think I have read every one of your blogs (and the one that featured me, maybe a couple of times! lol), and I always want to know what you have to say about what is going on in the publishing world. Thanks for that. And here is my take Better late than never. 😉

  10. All the analysis of this arrangement I read seems to boil down to two columns:
    (A) Locke needs S&S
    (B) S&S needs Locke.

    The real answer, of course, is that they need each other, for all kinds of reasons. Trying to ju-jitsu it into a fantasy of Locke deigning to let S&S help him seems like wishful thinking to me. Successful writers will always have options, and since John Locke’s sold a lot of e-books, he’s got options.

    1. Locke needs S&S to get into bookstores (or any publisher). S&S need Locke to sell his books.

      But what is unusual is that S&S were willing to take on an author without actually being the publisher. Whether this is a one-off, or whether we will see similarly structured deals in the future is a matter for debate, and will only really be settled with time. I would imagine that we will see more like this. It makes sense for both parties. But, what is interesting to me is that all the major publishers had previously declared that spinning off print rights was a red-line area. They appear to have caved on that demand. However, that will only be significant if it becomes a trend rather than a one-off.

      1. You’re right, it’s unusual. I definitely don’t think it’s a one-off–like you, I think it’s only the beginning; it’s something publishers are already set up to do. I also think publishers see the writing on the wall about the print rights limitation.

  11. Perhaps a bit groundbreaking here… publishers are distributors… now that’s one way to still be a publisher to those looking AND find a way to make a little with the indies.

    GOod for John! I blogged about this today too… every person has a dream and a plan to get there. This barrier of indie vs traditional needs to be put to rest. Everyone has their own goals in life… I applaud John – and all the other authors who have signed deals this year. They are in so many ways changing the face of publisher for the rest of us.


  12. David, you and Mike Shatzkin have a wonderful grasp of what this deal is, and what it means in terms of strategy, positioning, and significance. I was astounded to read comments from authors who felt I had “sold out,” when in reality I have consistently refused all offers to be traditionally published. This agreement is practically the polar opposite of a trad deal, and I appreciate your knowledge and understanding of that fact, and your willingness to convey it to your readers.

    1. Hi John,

      I love this deal because everybody wins (and congratulations by the way). The publisher gets a piece of the action. The booksellers get a new bankable star in print for the first time. Readers who haven’t switched to e-books get to read your work. You hit a much wider audience – all those print books in all those bookstores across America will act as advertisements for John Locke and Donovan Creed to the millions of Americans who have never even bought a book online, let alone picked up an e-reader. And even Amazon will win as I’m sure the e-books will get a sales bump with all the promo and news stories that will inevitably surround the release of the print editions.

      I really love it!


  13. This seems to me like a wonderful deal for John Locke, changing the publishing game to the point where it clearly puts the AUTHOR in charge. That is great news for all authors! 🙂

    1. John Locke certainly has leverage that the average author doesn’t. And I don’t think that the average author will be able to demand a similarly structured deal today. However, this is the first crack in publisher’s resistance to doing print-only deals. And indeed, this deal has gone further – John Locke hasn’t signed over any rights at all, it’s a distribution deal. I don’t think it will be the last deal of it’s kind, but I do think it will take a while for these changes to filter down.

      But it’s a new model, for sure. One that will be of huge interest to all self-publishers, who will be watching closely for further deals of this kind.

  14. Just wondering how much the paper versions will retail at… If John Locke puts his success down to readers taking a punt on an unknown because of the ‘bargain’ price tag, how will that translate to paper sales?

    Any thoughts?

    PS Great blog btw – discovered you via the Writers Workshop ‘Wordcloud’. Congrats on your success.

    1. Hi Eva,

      That’s the big question at the moment. As far as I remember, his books are reasonably short (60k to 70k). And I think it’s safe to say the print run will be huge. That should drive down costs. But the retail price will be dependent on lots of variables – how cheaply they can print the books, how big that print run will actually be, what kind of cut S&S are getting (and whether it is flat-fee, per-book, or a percentage), and what format they lead with. Will they go hardback, trade paperback, then mass market paperback? Or will they debut in a cheaper format (trade paperback, or maybe even mass market paperback) so that the price difference between the 99c e-books and the print edition isn’t too vast? All questions yet to be resolved.


      1. I believe the S&S quote said “paperback” and those kinds of press release quotes tend to be vetted for accuracy. So I expect it’s paperbacks.

        The Locke agenda (that should be a paperback title!) really demands a pricing strategy so it would be cool to see the $5 mass-market paperback return.

        Mass market is kind of a double-edged sword for publishers but a Locke trade paperback would likely look a bit thin with typical print size and need to carry that higher $10 price that just doesn’t seem to fit his style.

        So I’m betting MM. And I wouldn’t be surprised by a slightly lower than usual price point highlighted on the front cover.

  15. Thanks for the updates. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more of these deals as time goes by. There are some wonderful self-published books out there.


  16. This really is a win-win deal. The publisher gets a story from an author with a proven track record and John gets postioning in the brick and mortar world.

    I think that the anger being directed against him is coming from writers who have spent years trying to get past the legacy gate keepers without any success. There is no shortage of forums where eBook converts gleefully anticipate the coming demise of the legacies. You certainly don’t want to propose the possiblity of their survival under a new model because they don’t want to hear it, they want revenge.

    John’s deal is a beacon for the new model. He gets physical shelf space, generating even more word of mouth (which is the key to sales for eBooks). It also relieves the publisher of the troublesome submission sifting where they pick at least as many duds as winners. If brick and mortar publishers are going to survive, this is how its going to happen.

    It will be interesting to see how their price will compare to John’s eBook pricing. Let’s hope he doesn’t get undercut.

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