Hi Gary - this could become an interesting discussion, and also, we're facing what the impact will be on the industry as a whole.
To date, it's not been handled with foresight.
Publishers, early on, considered e sales as "subsidiary rights" and as such, treated the item, where they could get away with it, as a "resale" much as a subrights sale to a book club. The author got only 50 percent of their NORMAL royalty, with such a subrights sale. The grist that stuck was that there is NO PRODUCTION cost, or risk, on the publisher's part. Such a sale would become largely profit…so…why should an author get a bare fraction (a half a royalty sliding between 5 percent, or even two, if it was a lousy contract!
Until the entire industry sits up and revamps its thinking into EQUITABLE terms…you see the problem.
E books for download are incredibly hard to track - people can pass them on like nothing, and nobody wins. While I do realize the information age is upon us, and information flow is part of the good stuff - too much "propriety" dams that flow to our detriment – the "information should be free" crowd just likes to omit the fact that our authorial creativity has no free lunch. We do our "dreaming" in physical bodies that need to be fed, clothed, housed, and we have to upkeep our families. The craft of writing, the artistry of working with words, does not happen by magic - it takes time, dedication, practice - and that ain't free, either.
Right now, the authors are trying to stand on their rights as creators, and get this matter on the table for a sane resolution.
One could wish there was something like an itunes for books.
The other half of the problem - is quality. And that's a stumbler.
If any book can be uploaded, just like that, and set up with an account for an author - well, anything goes! How does a reader have ANY assurance of quality, before paying their share to receive the story??? With production costs so simple, anybody can desktop upload…and there may be many treasures in the muck, but there's an awful lot of muck! Traditionally, whether you agree with editorial policies, or not, a publisher was a rite of passage - the book they produced, and put money and effort behind - made a statement that it passed a certain STANDARD. You at least knew it had been handled, checked, copyedited, and fashioned to be basically readable, whether or not you liked the content.
How will the rash of e book publication handle this??? Any editor will tell you about their towering slush heaps - and a day spent leafing through such pages (no offense to anyone still in their learning stages) will quickly show that most of it is - dreck. Poor ideas, badly organized presentation, no ideas at all, much of the time, if there is a worthy idea, the poor thing never got on the page! Learning the craft of writing is not just a talent - it is an artistry, and most writers beginning have no idea how to handle themselves on a page. Many great books are lost, because they never take the time and the hours to learn how to manage their "talent"!
So - what role will a "publisher" play in the e book game?
When people say "e books are ecologically better" this is a misnomer!!! Computers, download, machines to read the books, batteries - these take POWER. Most of our electricity comes from dirty sources (coal, for instance, takes the tops of MOUNTAINS - and chokes the valleys, streams and everything below with poisonous, suffocating silt - how destructively arrogant!) Readers, batteries, computers use all manner of poisonous heavy metals - and where are these discarded? I once saw a chart that displayed how many countries were required to give up raw minerals to create ONE computer - it's staggering. Those extractive industries are horrific for the earth and I see NO computer company addressing sustainability. It's all get a bigger, better, faster machine, and chuck out your old one.
Fortunately, our landfill here does some disassemble and salvage of old electronics, and if not that, at least disposes of the heavy metal stuff in the circuit boards as TOXIC WASTE.
The print book - grows trees. Trees can reseed. The pulp industry is a mess, with the bleaching and the damage to rivers, but that is able to be cleaned up a lot easier than a DUMP, or fixing a removed mountain top…where NOTHING grows, all the topsoil and upper strata of living things just - chomped away by a massive machine. (Do your research!)
We currently have a crisis in our forests, due to paper companies DUMPING their land - and who's buying that "wild" acreage??? Use your google. Do your research.
I am not against e books. But I do not regard them as a panacea for the environment, YET.
The solution will emerge - and for now, very probably, will become a mix of formats.
First off, though, the equitable distribution of renumeration needs a major adjustment - so consumers of ideas can enjoy and benefit at a reasonable price, and so that producers who DO THE WORK get a fair wage, and so that creators see the value of their ideas translated into a fair living.
Publishers, many of them, have taken to adding a clause in their contracts that includes what amounts to the meaning of - all rights pertaining to inventions yet to occur in the future…!
Talk about a rights grab, with no equitable negotiation permitted!!! Not a simple thing, as just, let's do e books.
I personally expect, when the centrifuge of controversy is done, we will have what we WANT…but there has to be an evolution in thinking, concerning the "value" of ideas - which do not have substance, but which require our presence and effort (in substance) to produce.