Penguin's insane policy on electronic galleys for authors


A few years ago, I noticed that the 5th Allen Steele “Coyote” book was out, and I realized I had completely missed the 4th one.
I went looking for it, and being a recent Sony Reader convert, was looking for it in e-book.
I found that it had already come out in paperback, and was $7.99, or I could get it in e-book format, for $24.99.

I wrote to Penguin “owners of Ace Books” and explained what I had found, and asked if they were actually insane or were just asking that way.
I didn’t get a reply, but 2 days later they lowered the e-book price to match the paperback, )which is more than a lot of publishers do).
I often find the e-book is higher than the paperback.

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Many publishers use NetGalley to send secure digital copies of galleys or finished books to agents or authors. We routinely work with rights departments and editors to help them use the NetGalley tool for this purpose. (Full disclosure, I am the president of NetGalley).

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Wait, am I missing something? Are we complaining about $300 bucks here?

It doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue.

The publisher has added value to the book by combining all the edits into a single PDF format.

Is it $300 dollars worth of value? Probably


The issue is that if they give a well-formatted digital version to the author, the author can convert the book themselves and post it up on all of the non-contracted stores directly. Here’s how Penguin sees it:

  1. Sign an author, put effort into converting and marketing the book. Set a release date for 1 year in the future in the US.
  2. Send an electronic version to the author
  3. Author self-publishes in every other country outside the US, eliminating the opportunity for Penguin to sell the rights to the book.

Penguin’s POV is that the author would not be successful without their support. The author’s POV is that Penguin is just providing a service and that they wouldn’t have anything to sell without the author’s heart and soul on the printed page.

I think the real solution isn’t to worry about DRM or selling additional stuff, but simply better contracts. If they can’t explain their contracts adequately to authors so that authors don’t have these type of concerns, they need to hire better lawyers and better account administrators.

I don’t understand what you mean.

Are you saying that Penguin has the rights to sell books in territories, but the author spoils sublicensing deals by making deals herself ahead of Penguin?

That’s not how foreign rights deals work.

When you do a deal with an English-language publisher, they often ask for world English-language rights, but will often settle for a a US & Canada or Commonwealth (without Canada) territory.

So my US publisher has the rights to sell my books in the US and Canada, but nowhere else in the Anglosphere (the rest of the world is “open territory” where the publisher has nonexclusive rights to market their edition).

My UK publishers have the rights to sell my books in the UK and Commonwealth (excepting Canada).

If I got the final electronic edition from my US publisher and then went and sold ebook versions in the US and Canada, they’d sue me for breach of contract.

If I got the final electronic edition from my US publisher and sold ebook versions in the Commonwealth (excepting Canada), this would have no effect on their profits at all because they aren’t allowed to sell versions in those territories, full stop.

The scenario you’re describing makes no sense, even by the weird standards of Penguin. It is vanishingly unlikely to be anyone’s reasoning at Penguin – it would be like worrying that the French edition would cut into their sales.


Why charge the author $300 for a copy of the book, when they’re charging readers $10–$20 for a copy? Granted, they may be selling the author a non-DRMed version, but maybe they shouldn’t be selling DRMed editions to customers, anyway.

Printing and distribution is only part of the cost of publishing. A surprising amount of work goes into the layout and flow of each version of a book. This investment is the justification for the high cost of electronic editions. The publisher has invested nearly as much in the production of the eBook as in the printed version. Usually, though, the eBook master is in something like Adobe InDesign, and contains most of the value-add from formatting, through section and figure anchoring, flow hints, and all the attention to visual layout. The retail eBook output version, typically a PDF or EPUB file, lacks most of this value-add and is merely a pretty snapshot of the eBook master at a given size. About the only way Penguin would lose their value-add would be for foreign publishers who do no re-formatting and simply print the eBook as is. Less attentive foreign publishers might re-size to a different paper and just let the paragraphs and diagrams flow where they will, making for a very wonky printed edition.

Publishers prefer opaque contracts because they make more money when convoluted contracts allow them to, for example, package an author’s work into a bundle that is marketed to colleges. Obscure clauses in the contract allow the publisher to fiddle with the contribution price of each book in the bundle so that the writer who has the greatest royalty percentage will find their book the most discounted in the bundle. This can reduce royalties to that author by half, or worse. It also allows publishers to include clauses that aggregate costs from other titles, so a writer might feel encouraged that their new book is racking up amazing sales only to be back-charged for mouldering copies of an older book that the publisher printed years ago that are now being written-off. It’s a sleazy business that is preventing some talent from even trying to write.

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If the contract is written so that the author and agency get full rights to distribute the works in other countries, then what is stopping them from producing the finished manuscript and creating the e-book themselves?

It’s pretty normal that the company that pays for the converted file remains ownership of that version of the product. They’re not able to ship it around, but they have no obligation to freely give that version to other people. Is the argument here really just that Penguin is charging their authors a “pass-through” fee for the work they’ve done on the manuscript?

If the contract doesn’t include the right to sell the book in foreign territories (many do, which is why the Big 4 publishers have such giant booths at Frankfurt), then charging $300 – which is the cost for producing a well-formed e-book through a conversion company – seems pretty fair to me.

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So no one has set up a business that will take a physical book and send back the raw layout?

I’d guess that if this were done overseas it would cost way less than $300

What’s kind of interesting about this is that it’s more or less acknowledging that they have no way to enforce their IP rights (presumably copyright) on the layout and design, at least outside the US.

There are a lot of companies that will OCR a book and send back a raw file of some kind. Straight text dumped into a word file is about a dollar a page (and includes basic formatting like carriage returns, italic, bold, etc.). Formatting it as print-ready is typically an extra $0.50 assuming it’s a novel. This excludes shipping charges and many of these companies are overseas (India, Philippines). There may be a premium if the total volume of the work is a single book; most of these companies prefer to work at the scale of at least dozens of books.

The price is actually very fair to simply get a formatted version of the manuscript back. I used to work at a conversion outsourcing company and the typical cost back to our clients for simple novels was between $150 to $300 for a finished e-book. We offered lots of add-ons if desired, like print-ready, InDesign-formatted, etc., but most clients were just interested in ePub. We had a lot of agencies contacting us for authors whose rights had reverted back to them, and were then free to create ebook versions of their books themselves.

Publishers are fully aware of the power of a digital format of a book. But, like most businesses, they see little reason to do things as favors to their suppliers (in this case authors) that provide no profit to them. As far as Penguin is concerned, the finished Word file or PDF is a means to creating the other formats – an intermediate that’s archived internally – and not something they create for distribution to their clients. They’re doing this typically to create paper books, and they send those to authors already. Why should they provide additional services to clients without a fee? Especially considering that this fee is already low at a mere $300.

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Speaking as a Penguin author …

I asked my editor if it was possible to get the raw DTP (InDesign) files some years ago. Her illuminating response is that Penguin don’t actually own the DTP files. They outsourced typesetting, as well as printing, many years ago. They supply the author’s text to a typesetting agency, who prepare the PDFs for proofreading and supply final fully imposed PDFs to the printing company who produce the book. They also emit the epub file that is used to generate DRM’d commercial ebook downloads. But Penguin doesn’t actually own the rights to DTP files, and so can’t supply a copy of them to the author.

It’s intellectual property licensing gone mad.

(Hint: if I hypothetically wanted my own clean copy of an as-published book, I could simply buy an ebook edition, crack the DRM on it, and use Calibre to transcode it into RTF or something.)


300 dollars is less than a day rate for a typesetter and it more than one day’s work for the average novel! It sounds reasonable to me.

… and this cost also covers all the office work in supplying, invoicing and taking payment for the transaction.

What’s the penalty for breaking DRM in the UK?

that is same with any design work!

what would you do with them anyway - outted PDFs much more useful.

Yes, of the text, but NOT of the layout i.e. not of the book. (refer to any colophon)

Oh come on now. Just stop it.

Production of the ebook costs as much as production of the printed book?
Paper books that require millions of dollars of paper, presses, (and labor), trucking, (and labor), warehouses, (and labor), more trucking, (and labor), , shelf space, remainders, more trucking and storage, (and labor) …

Right… same thing, really…

Interesting, thanks for the insight. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that such a business exists and that it’s roughly on par with what Penguin will charge you.

One thing I’m a little unclear on is whether the particular design of a book is copyrighted or not if the layout is exactly the same.

Another in the continuing series, Dinosaurs Thrashing About in the Tar Pit. Hang in there, Penguin. I’m sure the world will come around to your way of thinking any day now.

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It’s a violation of the Copyright, Designs, and Patent Act (Section 296ZA). But the only prosecutions I can recall were for things like selling mod chips for games consoles that allowed them to run copies of game CDs or DVDs – stuff that bit a company’s profit margin so hard that it was worth their while to go after the modchip sellers.

The author-breaking-DRM-on-their-own-book thing is a special case. Under Section 296ZE, I think I might be allowed to complain to the Secretary of State and request some sort of waiver to cover my ass. But my head hurts whenever I try and read the CDPA text; it was certainly not written with this kind of bizarre edge condition in mind – i.e. the copyright owner of a work trying to crack DRM imposed on said work by someone they licensed it to. (I will ask a friendly law professor for an opinion …)