HarperCollins has announced that its William Morrow imprint is launching a new line of mystery, suspense, and thriller e-books. The Witness line will be digital-only, at least for the initial release of each title. Presumably a print version might appear for a title that got very popular. Many titles will be brand-new, some will be international imports, and some will be backlist, including all of Agatha Christie's short stories.
Of special interest: pricing is expected to be $0.99 to $2.99 (US). HarperCollins calls that "market responsive" pricing.
This is a pricing level that I never expected to see from a major publisher. I think that this is, in large part, made possible by reduced author royalties. Authors will get 25% of list, which isn't that far off from the print percentages, except that with the low prices it doesn't amount to much. The royalty does jump to 50% after 10,000 copies are sold.
Furthermore, there will be no royalty advances from Witness. One of the things that makes the big-name books so expensive, even in e-book form, is the publisher trying to recover the royalty advance. If a new author receives a $20,000 advance on a novel, and the publisher expects to sell 3,000 copies (an optimistic number for a new author's first novel) and gives the bookseller the standard 30% commission on e-books, the e-book price has to be at least $9.50 just to make up the advance. That's not covering any of the publisher's expenses in acquiring, editing, formatting, and distributing the e-book.
For titles from Witness, selling 3,000 copies at $2.99 gives $6300 to the publisher, of which the author gets $2250 in royalties.
The first ten titles in the Witness line are scheduled for an October release.
They are also paying royalties on a monthly basis, same as Amazon has started doing for their authors.