Writer dumps publisher, launches self-publishing venture, over e-book royalties

The argument between the author of a best-selling memoir and his publisher over the amount of royalties he was owed from sales of the digital editions of his work, has led to the author not only leaving the publisher, but going on to set up a new publishing house for himself and calling on other writers to join him.

Joe Simpson, a mountaineer whose book Touching The Void chronicles a life-and-death struggle to survive in the Peruvian Andes, ended what he described as a “huge dispute” with Jonathan Cape, by splitting with the company and branding them as bullies who unfairly try to keep money from authors.

“They thought they could bully me into accepting 25-percent royalties even though I owned 100 percent of [the rights],” Simpson explained in a YouTube video he released to announce the new self-published edition of the book. “[It] seems to be a fairly common tactic of the big publishing houses,” he went on. “They like intimidating and bullying their authors, basically threatening to not publish them any more if they won’t accept these ridiculous royalty rates.”

25-percent royalties on digital editions is a common figure for mainstream publishers, despite outcry from authors who believe that the reduced cost of manufacturing required for e-books should mean a higher rate of royalty (50-percent is one figure that has been bandied about). When considering the reduced rate of manufacturing required for digital books, Simpson apparently took that logic further and started questioning whether or not he could handle being an e-book publisher himself.

“I realized when I had this battle with them that I didn’t need them,” he explained. “We don’t really need [publishers] as much as they would like us to think. OK, they have all the influence over book marketing and publicity, they have all the literary editors of the newspapers and magazines in their pockets, and they can ratchet that up, but they don’t need to take 75-percent of your royalties to do that.”

The result of this train of thought is the creation of DirectAuthors.com, a digital publishing company created and owned by Simpson that plans to offer 40-50 percent to authors on e-book sales. “There is a certain amount of debate in the industry about royalty rates,” admits the company’s managing director, Marek Kriwald. “Some people are quite happy with whatever’s offered, and others analyze the situation and decide it should be different… You have to question 75-percent [going to the publishers] – there’s very little they need to do for that money.”

A spokesman for Random House, the parent company of Jonathan Cape, released a statement in response to Simpson’s comments, saying that the company was “disappointed to have not been able to reach an agreement with Joe about his e-book publishing, however we continue to publish his books in physical format.”

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: