There's been a bit of on-going discussion about Amazon.com's new e-book reader "Kindle." I discovered my book Tall, Dark & Dead is available in Kindle format. When I expressed some concern about this on BroadUniverse, I got a lot of confused looks, electronically speaking. When I asked if I was going to "get any money" for this, people patiently explained to me the Kindle was new technology and that OBVIOUSLY I wouldn't know if I was going to make a profit on it until I got my royalty statement.
Here's my reply: That's not how things normally work. When SF BookClub, for instance, wants to change the format of my book, i.e. publish its own version, they pay Penguin USA a fee UP FRONT -- an advance -- for the rights to do this. A percent of this advance is credited to my royalties. Any time anyone changes the format of my book (audio, book club, e-book), Penguin should get an advance BEFORE they make that new format available.
Of course, I may see royalties from the sale of my books on Amazon.com the same way I see royalties from any bookseller. But, think about it. If Uncle Hugo's decided to make an audio book of Tall, Dark & Dead available to their customers, Penguin USA would sue their a**es. Uncle Hugo's, though they have copies of the book laying around that they paid for, doesn't have the right to do anything but sell them in the format they bought them in. Can you imagine if SF Bookclub (or, let's say, I) said to themselves, "Hey, I know let's make an e-book of this book I bought at the store today. I'll just scan the pages here and I'm golden. I'll put it up on the web. Anyone can buy it."
That is exactly what Amazon.com did.
Penguin owns the right to all formats that my book could potentially appear in (book club, audio, e-book, etc.), in order to stop people from just randomly making their own versions available. Amazon.com, as far as I understand it, certainly never paid Penguin an advance, because I'd have heard about it from my agent. This is the money I'm talking about.
It's not greed that makes me concerned, although I would expect to see some profit from any format change. If Bob Smith wants to sit down with Audacity and make a audio version of my book, I think he'd get sued for copyright infringement, which this is. Bob Smith doesn't have the right to SELL my book in any format other than the one Penguin Putnam produced (or any other publisher who bought those rights from Penguin.) And, Penguin doesn't have to wait for Bob Smith to make a profit. They should be paid in advance of publication of the new format. Period.