Zack Lapponese has been Sales Manager for MetaComet Systems since 2016. He enjoys being in this business because it’s all about building relationships.
What’s your favourite part of publishing? Let’s be honest: managing royalties probably doesn’t make it into many people’s top ten.
When calculating doesn’t add up
Manually calculating and processing authors’ royalties can be a real chore. It can consume hours, days or even weeks of time that would be better spent on editing, selling or marketing books. Even if royalties are only dispatched once or twice a year, the accumulated man-hours drain money out of a business that should be invested elsewhere.
Calculations demand complex databases and spreadsheets that soon become unwieldy. Manual management might be feasible for a handful of books over the first few years of a publisher’s life, but if they have any ambitions to grow its output then systems soon become overburdened.
The frustration that calculations cause can be spectacular—especially when errors creep in. A trawl through sales data and past statements is usually needed to identify and correct them, soaking up yet more time. And the emergence of digital formats like ebooks, aggregation, currency conversion and subscription services—not to mention detailed contract provisions like escalation clauses, agreed deductions or reserves against returns—are making royalty reckonings ever more complex and prone to error than they were in the simpler days of fixed-price, print-only sales.
Why it matters
But management of royalties is a vital task. Administering them promptly and accurately is essential to the good running of any publishing operation. It makes cashflow smoother and more predictable, and contributes to better and more insightful business accounting.
Good royalty practice is also crucial to any publisher’s relationships with its authors. Pay promptly and authors will stay happy and motivated to produce good books; pay late and they soon start to think of their publisher as disorganised and unprofessional. Royalties are a popular and important topic of conversation among authors, and word of mouth about poor management of them spreads fast.
Mistakes can lead to embarrassing discovery through royalty audits, and at their worst create severe reputational damage and costly legal action. As leading agent Caroline Walsh warns in the Writers & Artists Yearbook: “Royalty statements are notoriously enigmatic… mistakes are more common than one might like to think.”
Automation is the answer
Fortunately there’s a way to make life easier. Automation of the process through specialized systems can help ease the headaches of royalty management, slashing the time it takes to work out and administer payments. Our conversations with publishers suggest that specific tools can improve the efficiency of royalties by up to 90%. Many details of these types of tools can be found here.
Automation also dramatically raises the accuracy of calculation and reduces the risk of overpayment or underpayment, either of which can damage a business. Royalty statements for authors become much more clear and transparent, and can be accessed at any time through cloud-based author portals. Scheduling means authors know exactly when they will be able to see their royalty calculations, and when they will get paid. AuthorPortal.com is a great resource for maintaining those author relationships.
There are visibility benefits for publishers too. Statements can be viewed on demand, even at times when royalty payments aren’t due. That lets users see information at a glance about things like royalty accruals, monies payable and balances against advances. Better intelligence about the royalties side of the business leads to sharper short-term decisions and long-term strategies.
Perhaps most importantly, automation reduces the time spent buried in spreadsheets, and frees you to do the kind of pleasurable and profitable work that you came into publishing for in the first place.