Borders revealed their ebook self-publishing platform, Borders Get Published, powered by BookBrewer, touting it as the place where authors can get started in this world of digital publishing. Aside from the company's serious financial trouble casting into doubt whether or not anyone would actually ever see royalty payments from them until cleared, years later, through a bankruptcy court; this is the worst major deal being offered to writers.
The deal looks simple: you provide content, they'll put the book up through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore and Borders' own Kobobooks -- as other services will do. Where they get really nasty is in offering their "package" for publishing. The author will pay $89.99 for each book, plus 25% of the take from any sales. Books must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 -- the price range necessary for Amazon to pay a 70% royalty on the sale of each book.
The math is frighteningly simple: A $3 book creates a payment of $2.10. BookBrewer will then take .53 cents, leaving the author with $1.57 which, presumably, will be paid at least 60 days after the sale (since that's when Amazon would pay). So, the first 60 copies of the book sold will pay off the fee, then the author will be making a profit.
This all sounds great, especially when writers have dreams of being the next J. A. Konrath, but the reality is not so rosy. Selling those 60 copies could take six months or longer -- which could well be considerably longer than Borders will survive.
If the author did the prep work herself, she'd be making that 70% (or more) directly. If you've ever bought a book through Amazon, you're halfway set up to selling through them. It is not rocket science, and certainly isn't worth $90 and a piece of the action. Putting books up on Barnes & Noble is also easy, and between the two of them your work would be listed in the two marketplaces that capture over 80% of all ebook sales.
Three rules all authors would do well to bear in mind in this age of digital:
1) You do not pay a royalty to anyone who is doing day-labor. All book production should be done for a flat fee (and there are plenty of folks who will do it for very reasonable fees). Paying a royalty to someone for prepping an ebook is akin to paying the kid who cuts your grass a percentage of the purchase price when you sell your house. It makes no sense.
2) Ebooks and ebook sales are immune to audit. You do not know and cannot know how many books have actually been sold. I sell a lot of ebooks from my website, and encourage authors to set up their own stores. Not only do we make more money selling directly (around 95% of the purchase price), but we get a feel for this new digital economy. The big lesson I've learned is that traditional publishing (and Borders is part of that) has no clue as to how this market is going to grow, or where it is going to go. Looking to traditional publishers to lead the way through the change is akin to expecting buggywhip manufacturers to set the pace in the automotive age.
3) Money flows to the author, not from the author. If someone is going to profit from your work, they need to earn it. BookBrewer is doing nothing that free software won't do; and doing it yourself makes you profitable a lot faster. The only way you can guarantee you're not being ripped off is to keep your money in your pocket.
Authors should run, very fast, away from Borders Get Published. Publishing can be tough. It has the ability to kill dreams. Borders Get Published is the last gasp attempt by a failing company to become relevant in a world where its business model has failed.
Authors should not let their failure become our failure.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this post did not distinguish between Borders Get Published and Bookbrewer. This has been corrected.