Knowlton says that HarperCollins is among those giving 25%. Ana Maria Allessi, vice president and publisher of HarperMedia, a multimedia group at HarperCollins, did not confirm or deny the number, but said that the same rate has been offered since 2001.
"We feel it's the right royalty, one that allows for growth of the format while still returning to authors a respectable amount of money," Allessi said.
_The author, or author's estate, is open to e-book rights, but still not convinced that the market is big enough to justify the expense and risk of digitizing a text. Arthur Klebanoff of RosettaBooks, an e-book publisher, remembers numerous attempts to get rights to "To Kill a Mockingbird" and other older classics, only to encounter skepticism about sales.
"Some of the biggest names are still waiting for the market to prove itself," Klebanoff said.
The digital red tape is especially thick for books issued before the Kindle/Sony Reader era. David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," a cult favorite published in 1996 by Little, Brown and Company, is finally expected to come out as an e-book. Grove/Atlantic hopes to have an e-version of Burroughs' "Naked Lunch," released on paper in 1959, ready for the novel's 50th anniversary.
"We have to go through every single contract to see which ones have a clause that might pertain to electronic rights and which ones didn't," says Grove's Eric Price. "When you're going through thousands and thousands of contracts, it's a slow, slow process."
Sometimes, just finding out whether a book has e-rights is a complicated process. A handful of Jack Kerouac books can be downloaded, including "Dharma Bums," "Wake Up" and the original manuscript (the "Scroll" edition) of "On the Road," but not the edited version of "On the Road" that is known to millions.
The manager of Kerouac's literary estate, John Sampas, first said that "On the Road" was not available as an e-book, because the publisher (Viking) had not asked permission. He then called back and said the book was available, but realized he may have been talking about the "Scroll." Sampas suggested contacting Viking, which said it does have rights to the popular edition, has plans to release it, but has not decided upon a date.
Authors, too, can be the last to know. Erica Jong said she "had no problem with e-books" and was surprised to learn that "Fear of Flying" wasn't available. Historian Douglas Brinkley considers himself an ink and paper man and said he hoped his work, which includes the best sellers "The Great Deluge" and "Tour of Duty," wasn't for sale electronically.
But it was.
"That's why I don't think about it," he said. "Personally, I'm smart enough to recognize the e-book trend and stubborn enough to resist it."