Secrets of Publishing – Multinational publishers: Do authors really get what they’re promised?

[Academic authors are often unfamiliar with multinational publishers and the smooth talk of their representatives. So if you publish your book with a multinational, what are you getting? Do these companies perform as they claim? This page is to assist you to become more critical of multinational publishers. These comments are not intended to imply a lack of professional ethics in multinational publishers, merely the inevitable compromises of big business.] 

It is easy as an  unpublished or infrequently published academic to be swept along by the smooth confidence and promises of the people at a multinational publisher. You have dealt with one or two publishers before, they have dealt with thousands of academics. They know what to say and when to say it. (Or they should!) But without experience, how can you see through their persuasive arguments. Before you know it, you have signed your work away for a low royalty on nothing more than a handful of promises and the dubious prestige of a multinational publishing imprint.

Let’s look at some claims of multinational publishers and their performance.

Multinational Promise 1: Our publishing contract is standard.

  • Multinational publishing contracts are often draconian especially when compared to smaller publishers who are able and willing to share rights more equally with authors.

Multinational Promise 2: We can sell your book better than a small publisher. We have 10 or 15 sales representatives in Australia.

  • Yes, they have many sales reps, but let’s do some arithmetic. If each rep. has up to, say 500 new books each year, makes on average probably only 5 calls per day for a maximum of 240 days per year, each new book gets approximately 2.5 (two point five) calls per year. As most of these calls are concentrated on large adoptions (1st and 2nd yr courses), if your book is a third year book, 2.5 calls per year (half a day’s work, per rep, per year) may be an exaggeration! Let’s say 2 calls per year, multiplied by 10 reps = 20 calls ( or a grand total of 4 days work) per year.

  • If a small publisher alone actively sells 3 books for only 6 weeks (30 days) a year, you get an average of 50 calls or (2 weeks work). 250% more exposure than from a multinational!

Multinational Promise 3: Our royalty rate is lower, but we sell more books. A smaller % of a much larger number is more money in the bank.

  • Multinationals do not necessarily sell more books. See Pt.2 above. But they do have higher overheads and mandated profit margins, which dictate reducing all costs. Every royalty % saved goes straight to the bottom net profit line in publishing. Big companies use their commercial size to negotiate better deals for their shareholders, not their authors.

Multinational Promise 4: We can sell your book all over the world.

  • Do they? Check with their local authors. Multinational publishing companies tend to view Australia simply as a market for US/UK books. They are often not interested and not capable of accepting books back from a subsidiary. If you add a cultural bias, (‘What could you teach us?’), not many books are sold around the world originating in Australia.

  • Small publishers on the other hand have their own international networks, actively seeking co-operative arrangements. Furthermore, small publishers, unlike subsidiary multinationals, can approach the head office of a multinational to negotiate international rights sales. With the advent of the Internet, small publishers have access to international markets, and vice versa.

Multinational Promise 5: Big publishers are reliable and produce good quality books.

  • Big publishers have big queues, inflexible practices and long time schedules (ask around). Multinational publishers are also big businesses with increasing pressures on sales, costs and profits. Books come and go more quickly, have reducing production standards, and are produced by overworked staff.

  • Small publishers are frequently faster (especially Eruditions) and normally have greater flexibility, more time for their authors, and rarely produce lower standard books.

Multinational Promise 6: Big publishers make more money.

  • True. But do you, as an author, share in it? Fewer rights, lower royalties, less marketing, less international exposure, longer schedules, less flexibility, less attention from staff and no better books.

  • It is true smaller publishers generally do not have highly (over?) paid executives, big city rental, large staff with flash cars, expense accounts, expensive sales conferences, 5-star accomodation, profit sharing and big dividends to shareholders. But they do often pay as high or higher royalties and sell just as many or more books.

Multinational Promise 7: Books endure with big established publishers.

  • Big established publishers endure, but do their books? Profit pressures lead to ruthless ‘pruning out’ of ‘non-performing’ titles. i.e. if your book is only wanted by say, 700 people each year, it will be put out of print (dead and gone). If it takes too long to sell the first print run (say, more than 18 months), there may be no second updated version.

  • Smaller publishers need you more. Digital publishers (like Eruditions) have no need to ever put your book out of print at all whilever anyone still wants it.Furthermore a digital publisher can more easily update your work.

So at the end of the day, what do we conclude? Not everything is at it seems, and not all promises from multinational publishers should be accepted without a large dose of sceptical salt.