Author Joe Simpson (not to be confused with Jessica Simpson’s dad) has split with Random House subsidiary Jonathan Cape / Vintage for trying to “bully [him] into accepting 25% royalties” for an e-book of his bestseller Touching the Void. “It seems to be a fairly common tactic of the big publishing houses, this. They like intimidating and bullying their authors, basically threatening to not publish them anymore if they won’t accept these ridiculous royalty rates.”
He calls his experience being published by Jonathan Cape “one of the proudest moments” of his life, saying “that was when Jonathan Cape was a little publishing house before Random House took it over.” Simpson will go ahead and digitally publish his back list via his company DirectAuthors, starting with Touching the Void, which sparked the “huge dispute” with Random House in the first place.
“I sort of realized when I had this battle with them, that I didn’t need them. We don’t really need them as much as they would like us to think,” Simpson says, referring to publishers. “Okay, they have all the influence over book marketing and publicity. They, they — maybe they have all the literary editors and the magazines and the newspapers in their pockets… but they don’t need to take 75% of your royalties to do that.”
A Random House spokesperson responded: “We were 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.”
I suspect disputes like Simpson’s will be happening a lot more over the next few years as self-publishing grows in respect; and older authors who didn’t have digital provisions in the contract start to take advantage of the 1978 copyright act and begin to publish e-book versions of their books. Simpson also parted ways with his agent at Curtis Brown, Vivienne Schuster.
Simpson admits he’s scared — not necessarily of his new venture — but of writing in general. “I find writing a very scary business,” he says in the video, “makes you very vulnerable. You’re very dependent on other people liking something that is very very personal and very important to you. But nevertheless, if it didn’t have that edge to it, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
The Bookseller reports, “According to Nielsen BookScan figures, [Simpson] was worth £105,000 to booksellers in 2012, down 38% year-on-year. The mass market paperback edition of his latest book, the novel Sound of Gravity, hit shelves in July 2012 and has sold 960 copies to date according to BookScan.