Rent an e-book? Yes, if you pay the author.

Is Amazon’s proposed e-book rental service going to be a game changer?

Some of the comments on a recent British Telegraph article imply that’s going to happen. According to one comment, authors will lose royalties. Writing will go back to what it was in the eighteenth century – a hobby for the independently wealthy.

That’s pretty much the case now anyway. Few authors can afford to go full time without other means (aka: ‘day job’). What’s more, most books are published on royalty-per-sale basis. If somebody gets hold of a copy without buying – say, via a library – the author isn’t paid.

But it seems to me the real game-changer has been the e-book revolution in the first place. It won’t kill print, it’ll add to it – another channel for sales, a channel with its own characteristic content. What’s more, it’s a way of getting more people to read books. Renting or selling? What’s the difference?

And I expect eventually systems will be set up to give authors a royalty for every e-book transaction – the question is when and how. It’s going to take a while for the new tech to settle down and for systems to build around it. Maybe decades, which doesn’t help authors today (including me) – but, optimistically, there is always the long view.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011