What does “net” mean in the royalties and subsidiary rights sections?

Q. My publishing contract doesn’t define “net.” It’s used in both the royalties and subsidiary rights sections. What does it mean?

A. “Net” is one of the worst terms for authors to leave undefined in a contract.
“Net” – more typically, “net proceeds” or “net receipts” – is what is left after various expenses are deducted from a larger amount, e.g., the book’s list price (in the royalties section, for those royalties not based on list) or the total amount paid to your publisher by a licensee (in the subsidiary rights section). Since the amount an author will receive in such situations is a percentage of the reduced amount, it is important to specify exactly what the expenses are that may be deducted in computing net. If not specified, authors may discover that the publisher’s understanding differs from theirs.

In particular, with many publishers now paying authors a royalty of 25 percent of net on e-book sales, your contract should specify that the only permissible deduction from the e-book’s price is the commission to the online bookseller (typically 30 percent at the moment). Smart authors will also provide that if the commission to the online bookseller is at any time increased, then the royalty will still be computed as if the commission was only 30 percent.

(Originally published in the Fall 2010/Winter 2011 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. © Mark L. Levine)

Answers to questions on this site are general in nature only. You should consult a lawyer for information about a particular situation. For more information about book publishing contracts and issues, see Levine’s book.

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