The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Straddling the divide: Michael Chabon has mixed feelings about granting ebook rights

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Starting this week and continuing into 2012, virtually all Michael Chabon novels, stories and other writings will become available as ebooks, news the author looks upon with pleasure and resignation.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," Chabon has been a published author since 1988, long enough to land on both sides of the legal and financial digital divide.

Chabon controls e-rights to such early works as "Wonder Boys" and his acclaimed debut novel "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" because they came out well before the electronic era and digital editions were not mentioned in his contracts. For those books, Chabon signed with Open Road Integrated Media, a digital publisher that offers 50 per cent royalties. Chabon called the terms "extremely fair and generous."

E-rights to "Kavalier & Clay," published in 2000 by Random House, and such recent HarperCollins releases as "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" are owned by the original publishers. For those editions, Chabon's royalties will be around 25 per cent, the industry standard and comparable to what publishers offer for hardcovers and paperbacks. Countless writers and agents have said the rate for ebooks should be raised.

"I agreed to the traditional ebook royalty, which I think is criminally low, because I didn't really have any legs to stand on. I didn't want to get left behind in the ebook revolution," Chabon said recently.

"When it comes to royalties on a paper book, that rate (25 per cent) is completely fair when you think of the expenses a publisher takes on — the delivery trucks and the factory workers and the distribution chains. But it's not fair for them to take a roughly identical royalty for an ebook that costs them nothing to produce."

A spokeswoman for HarperCollins, Tina Andreadis, said that the publisher does not "comment on our contracts with our authors." Jane von Mehren, senior vice-president and publisher of trade paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group, declined to comment on Chabon's criticism. But she did say in a statement that Random House was "thrilled" to release the e-book and trade paperback of "Kavalier & Clay" in June 2012 and "reach all the potential readers of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece."

With ebooks estimated at 20 per cent of overall sales, and growing, the fight for new and old releases intensifies., which also offers higher e-royalty rates than traditional publishers, has aggressively expanded its publishing program and signed the bestselling self-help author Timothy Ferriss. Open Road, co-founded in 2009 by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, has acquired e-rights to several popular "backlist" works, including Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides," Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" and Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying."

For traditional publishers, holding on to a classic can be expensive: Simon & Schuster reportedly paid seven figures for electronic rights to Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

Unlike Bradbury, who has likened ebooks to "burned fuel," the 48-year-old Chabon has no philosophical objections, only contractual ones. He has a Kindle app and iBook app and says one of his four children is enjoying the e-versions of the "Lady Grace" mystery series. He loves paper texts and believes they will last forever, but understands the convenience, and necessity, of buying a book at any time.

"I don't want someone who just finished 'Wonder Boys' and wants to read another one of my books to be unable do so because there's no bookstore nearby," he says.

"The technology is a cool technology, the appeal is obvious. As readers, we tend to be more subject, more prey to the need of instant gratification. Readers are greedy. It's a benign greed, and I think ebooks have the potential to satisfy that greed."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Coach Maurice talks controversial missed call late in Game 2

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A black swallowtail butterfly land on Lantana flowers Sunday morning at the Assiniboine Park English Gardens- standup photo – August 14, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google