In the past couple of months, two ebook subscription services — Oyster and Scribd — have launched. Both aim to be a “Netflix for ebooks,” providing unlimited access to ebooks from a variety of publishers for a set monthly fee.
Both Oyster and Scribd have been fairly circumspect about how authors are paid when their books are accessed through the apps — in part because the terms may vary slightly by publisher. Now, though, we’re getting a little bit more information on how author payments through Oyster work.
Self-publishing distributor Smashwords is letting its authors include their ebooks in Oyster. On Friday, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker sent authors and publishers an email explaining how the financial terms of the arrangement will work:
“As a Smashwords author or publisher, you’ll earn 60 percent of your book’s retail list price whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than 10 percent of your book, starting from the beginning of the book forward. It’s an author-friendly model. That’s the same rate Smashwords authors earn when we sell ebooks through the major retailers such as Apple and Barnes and Noble.”
This is not necessarily the same arrangement that Oyster has with other publishers it works with, like HarperCollins and Barnes & Noble. “Each contract we negotiate is unique to the preferences and priorities of our partners. Publishers are paid when their books are read,” Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg told me in an email. “There are several elements that go into determining if a book is read, and the amount they are paid is calculated based on the digital price of that book.” Nonetheless, the Smashwords policy provides a hint at the way that payment models can work for platforms like this.
Coker also offers other advice to authors using Oyster:
“I want to encourage you to keep you sales expectations realistic. Although Oyster represents a new, innovative and exciting distribution channel, they are still a new company and it could take them many months or years to establish a sizeable readership. However, as we know from our experience opening up distribution in 2009 and 2010 to new channels such as Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Apple, authors who are in first have a fan-building advantage over authors who delay. Even smaller retailers add to your bottom line. Every sale you get at Oyster is a sale you would not have otherwise received.
Following our first delivery, I’m going to provide Oyster, per their request, a spreadsheet identifying the bestselling books that are opted in to the Smashwords/Oyster catalog. Oyster plans to use this spreadsheet to identify popular books their merchandising team can promote in their app. As we do with the Smashwords bestseller list we supply to Publishers Weekly each month, the list will be based on sales of Smashwords-distributed titles aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network (here’s the latest bestseller list – http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/59396-smashwords-self-published-bestseller-list-august-2013.html ). In the future, credited sales at Oyster will contribute to a book’s ranking in our Publishers Weekly list as well.”