To boil it down, Shawn Coyne guesstimates that James made $58.5 million from her deal with Random House, which sounds pretty good until he guesstimates that she could have made $61.25 million on her own.
He assumes that, on her own, James would have sold only 8.75 million copies (25% of the 35 million copies she sold with Random House), and that they would all be e-books (instead of a mix of e-books and paper books).
Obviously Coyne makes a solid ton of assumptions here about everything--James' royalty rate, Random House's production costs, you name it. These are guesstimates, not real figures.
So let's play with them! Let's say that, on her own, James sold exactly as many e-books as she sold with Random House. After all, Coyne argues (and I agree) that a traditional publisher doesn't really bring a serious advantage to the e-book playing field.
Coyne assumes a 50/50 split between paper and e-books, which leaves James selling 17.5 million e-books.
She would make $122.5 million.
In Coynes' 25% scenario, James makes $2.625 million more if she self-publishes and never sells a paper copy. In my 50% scenario, she makes $64 million more.
Yes, yes, yes, this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff. It's assumptions piled upon assumptions. But that extra $2.65 million comes from a pretty conservative set of assumptions, just like my guesstimates about Stephanie Meyer's earnings versus those of her publisher.
Someone might read Coyne's post and think, Well, James sold 35 million copies! For that kind of exposure, I'd take a $2.65 million haircut, especially since I'm still getting $58.5 million!
But would you take a $64 million haircut? Or maybe some number in between--$20 million? $30 million? $40 million?
I really want for writers to think about their earnings potential in a much more serious way, because the money is there. Hit books really do make obscene amounts of money, but like Klayman, the vast majority of writers are happy if they can afford a bagel with lox for breakfast every day.
Recently Marvin Miller passed away. He was the man who radically altered how much sports players are paid. When Miller took over the baseball player's union, the minimum salary was was $6,000 a year, and a third of players were making less than $10,000. Can you imagine the change in mentality that had to happen for anyone to even envision a future where a baseball player would sign a $252 million contract? Can you understand why so many baseball players--not the team owners, not the fans, but the other baseball players--were so angry when Curt Flood likened the reserve clause to slavery?
It takes a certain amount of nerve to say, "I am worth $122.5 million. Don't you dare give me less." We're socialized not to make these kinds of demands--writers are supposed to be poor.
But guess what? If your book makes $122.5 million, you are worth $122.5 million. Or more--Coyne estimates that Random House made $163.5 million off of James. Why does that company deserve that money more than she does? Because they're not embarrassed to have it?