Royalty Software: Picks and Pans
by Linda Carlson
“Seriously ugly,” “cumbersome,” and “error-prone” are words some IBPA members use to describe their systems for tracking and calculating author and illustrator royalties. “We’ve outgrown our spreadsheet method” and “Would love something that brings us into the computer age!” are among the comments from other members eager to learn about software options.
Almost everyone agrees that a royalty tracking and payment program must:
be easy to install
be easy to use
accommodate discounts and payments for subrights and licensing
include good customer service and technical support
In addition, publishers using QuickBooks for accounting want royalty software that is QuickBooks-compatible.
Whether those criteria can be met depends on such factors as:
the publisher’s accounting and tech savvy
whether the publisher pays royalties based on cover price or publisher’s net
the number of books for which royalties and licensing fees must be paid
which countries the publisher’s authors live in
how often the publisher pays royalties
The cost of new software is most commonly cited as the reason even larger presses stay with outgrown or obsolete systems. A second frequently mentioned reason is time: time to research new software, time to convert, time to train staff, time to troubleshoot.
Smaller Publishers’ Systems
“Because we have only one author to calculate royalties for, I am able to keep it very basic, simple, and streamlined,” says Kathryn Wallace at T. F. Wallace & Co. in Cincinnati, whose comments are typical of smaller houses. “I track sales in QuickBooks, export them to Excel, and do the calculations in Excel,” she reports.
The cumbersome part, Wallace points out, is recreating the Excel report fields each time: “There is software that will fulfill that function, but since we do only one report twice a year, I can’t justify the expense or the time to set it up and learn it.”
At Pendant Publishing in Grand Junction, CO, Kevin Van Gundy describes his workaround for calculating royalties with QuickBooks: “We set up each author as a credit card, and each title has its own class. The initial advance puts the author’s account in the red, and then as product is sold and royalties earned, we end up owing the author money. So far, so good.”
But, Van Grundy adds, there’s a problem. “Each quarter, sales reports by product and author have to be run manually and individually, and the corresponding sales/royalty figures then have to be entered. With a few dozen authors and a few dozen books, it’s a hassle, not a nightmare. But as we grow, the system will become unwieldy, eventually breaking down into chaos.”
Many publishers complained about inability to tailor QuickBooks for royalty payments, but Dan Poynter of Para Publishing in Santa Barbara, CA, has a simple solution: “Pay on the cover price, not the net, which makes figuring royalties quick and easy.”
Methods for Making Do
Even much larger presses are using spreadsheets, as Richard Sorsky at Quill Driver Books in Fresno, CA, reports. “Unfortunately there is no royalty module to the program written for the company many years ago,” he says, “and so royalties are figured on a spreadsheet monthly. The figures are entered in each sheet for each book by hand, and as you can imagine, it is a bit tedious with 160-plus titles, but we are muddling through. At some point we will have to bring ourselves up to date with much more sophisticated software.”
“We can’t afford a more sophisticated program,” says Joe Taylor at the University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press. “We use My Invoices, which no longer has a royalty control, so what we do is not enter inventory. If we sell a number of books, the program shows minus that many books. It does figure in returns.”
At Simply Read Books in Vancouver, BC, Gillian Hunt says she would welcome a better program: “We use Simply Accounting (a Canadian software package). The inventory module tracks sales according to each title and units sold, and then royalties are calculated manually and entered onto a spreadsheet. A time-consuming process, but we’ve asked around, and there doesn’t seem to be a software program that anyone can recommend without misgivings.”
Sylvan Dell Publishing in Mount Pleasant, SC, continues to use Excel for its quarterly statements to 64 authors and illustrators. “I am able to dump the QuickBooks data for all title revenue and unit sales (since we have escalating royalties based on unit sales), and all quarterly data for author statements are instantly updated,” explains publisher Lee German. “Takes me about three to four hours to get the statements out. A bit primitive, but cheap.”
German is among the publishers who have considered more sophisticated programs such as Acumen, Cat’s Pajamas, and iPUB. Often, people decide against switching because of the ramp-up time and the potential for glitches.
Programs That Get Praise
Norman Goldfind at Basic Health Publications in Laguna Beach, CA, reports a relatively smooth transition to a service marketed by Infocrossing, which specializes in royalty accounting and reporting. “At the startup, it required effort to establish the basic format, and to input data for our published titles,” he reports. “Once we provided that information, and my accounting department did an electronic transfer of our prior royalty accounting records, we only needed to input our new title information as we publish, and to modify existing records for address and price changes.”
At Stenhouse Publishers in Portland, ME, which pays royalties to 164 authors for 261 titles, operations manager Elaine Cyr is generally pleased with Cat’s Pajamas. “It does very well for tracking sales and royalties, and the accounting system works well once you get used to its quirks.”
Those quirks? “We’re able to view but not print payment information, which some customers would like, especially at tax time,” Cyr explains. In addition, “the payment application process can be a bit clunky if a customer does not pay enough on the invoice. It requires processing a chargeback, a two-step process.”
Tilbury House in Gardiner, ME, is one of several IBPA members using Acumen. The company calculates royalties for about 120 titles, 100 authors, and 40 illustrators; and publisher Jennifer Bunting says: “We use Aatrix for payroll and Excel for some simple distribution reports, but everything else has gone through Acumen since 1995. After you plug in the royalty information for each new title (royalty rates, escalation clause, subrights, etc.), it will calculate royalties from invoice information automatically and it’s a simple matter to run off the royalty reports and print checks.”
Tilbury House uses the most basic Acumen program on Mac OSX. “We’ve had to upgrade our computer systems periodically to keep up with Acumen,” Bunting notes. “It was expensive to start with, and there’s a monthly maintenance charge, but the tech service is excellent. The tech staff can access your program over the Internet and figure out what needs fixing. It quickly generates a variety of sales and inventory reports and really helps us stay on top of sales information, cost of goods, and operating expenses.”
In short, “It’s an extremely efficient program for a publisher our size.” But, Bunting adds, “it would be overkill for a start-up or a company with a handful of books.”
Acumen also gets positive comments at Rose Publishing in Torrance, CA, and Pariyatti Publishing in Onalaska, WA, although publisher Julie Schaeffer at Pariyatti notes: “While the royalty system is one of the best features of Acumen, it’s not glitch free—you have to double-check the check amounts when automatically creating checks.”
What Acumen costs depends on when it was purchased and how many modules are included. One publisher with 100 titles and 35 authors estimates his initial cost at $20,000 and monthly maintenance at $400. Another, who converted six or seven years earlier, paid about $10,000 and has a monthly fee of $195.
Joggling Board Press in Charleston, SC, is trading the QuickBooks/Excel combination for iPUB. Susan Kammeraad-Campbell, publisher, says she’s convinced iPUB will allow her staff to create quarterly reports much more efficiently. “In addition to keeping track of royalties, the program allows for seamless tracking of shipments and inventory,” she adds.
DashBook is what Mary Shafer has been beta-testing at Word Forge Books in Ferndale, PA. “It seems really good if you’re a PC-based company, but I’m holding out for a native Mac version, because the PC-based version shows up wonky on Parallels, the emulation software that allows Mac users to run PC software,” she reports.
Shafer goes on to give DashBook developer Greg Carrier high marks for service. “I have never experienced such responsive customer service for any other software,” she declares. She’s also impressed by the online tech support, FAQs, and an informative, interactive blog.
Although some publishers who have tested DashBook call it a work in progress and say they are waiting for more progress, Tamara Mazzei at Trivium Publishing in San Antonio has converted to it from AnyBook. “The interface is well designed, and the program itself is easy to use and economical,” she says, noting that “the single-user version costs $249.”
Mazzei also praises the DashBook crew for its speed in adding new features. “I pay some of my authors with PayPal, and DashBook has incorporated the ability to pay directly from the interface: I think that’s brilliant! I can calculate royalties, click a button to email a royalty report, and then click another button to make a royalty payment, and I’m done for that royalty period. You just can’t beat that.”
Some publishers use PayPal, by the way, partly for reasons noted by Penny Weigand, CEO at Bellissima Publishing in Jamul, CA: “My Australian writer prefers to be paid through PayPal because he avoids certain transaction fees. Since I am small, I can accommodate him and save him some money as well. To send money that way costs me nothing.”
Two publishers who have converted to AnyBook offer these reports:
“A great program: inexpensive and keeps track of inventory, invoicing, and royalties,” says Tom Edinger at Marshall Publishing and Promotions in Barrington, IL, who previously used Mail Order Manager. “A little complicated to set up, but the customer service and software programming staff are readily available and will customize for customers,” he adds.
“I like the different levels to fit your business needs, and AnyBook can grow with you,” says Jannifer Anderson at ParaMind Publications in Kennesaw, GA, who has been reviewing royalty software programs. “The level I want is the top of the line at $729 for three users, which will give my accountant access to my accounting records to make sure I work the program correctly.”
At start-up Aquila Polonica in Crowborough, East Sussex, UK, principal Terry Tegnazian plans to follow the recommendation of consultant Marion Gropen at last year’s Publishing University and use PubAssist, created by IBPA member Steve Carlson. This program, which started life in 1989 as PiiGS (for Publishers’ Invoice and Information Generating System), is now available in a full single-user edition as freeware called Lyric. It previously sold for $1,495.
Sage Mas 90 is another accounting program that calculates royalties. “We have been very happy with Mas 90—it meets all of our needs for the business, but we are not planning to upgrade it because of the expense,” says Fran Wheeler at SPC Press in Knoxville, TN. Since SPC’s list is small, with 27 active titles and about 15 authors receiving royalties, the company’s accountant has recommended a switch to QuickBooks.
If you’re looking for still another option, here’s one from Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret at Penfield Books: Buy outright instead of paying royalties. “We simplify,” says the Iowa City, IA, publisher. Penfield now pays royalties on only one of its titles, having purchased all rights from the compilers and translators of its other titles prior to or at the time of publication.
Whatever your software choice, be prepared for some obstacles in implementation.
“It’s complicated to change horses in the publishing software realm, and I haven’t found anything yet that is both easy to use and glitch-free,” one publisher says.
And don’t expect complete satisfaction, two others warn. “Software programs are all built for accountants, not for real people,” says Eugene Miller at Antelope Press in Dillon, MT. And Roy Carlisle, communications director for the Independent Institute in Oakland, CA, wryly notes : “My last publisher used three different programs, and all of them created problems that everyone seemed to bitch about continually.”
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where she receives royalties for Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest from University of Washington Press.
Selected Royalty Software Programs
Acumen Book, cyberwolf.com
A complete publishing accounting program, with both core and optional modules (for example, the credit-card processing module is optional). There are upfront and monthly fees.
AnyBook Professional, ronwatters.com/RonSoft5.htm
To handle royalties, you’ll need Professional Level III, which costs $239 or, for a network-enabled program (no workstation limit), $269.
Cat’s Pajamas, tcpj.com
Created in the 1970s, Cat’s Pajamas was purchased in 2007 by Media Services, which had until then offered such publishing software as BookWorks. Cat’s Pajamas is offered with a choice of modules. None calculates subsidiary or foreign rights. It can be purchased as a standalone royalty software program starting at $5,000 to $10,000, or as a complete accounting program starting at $10,000.
Élan Rights & Royalties, msgl.com/book/royalties
This software, also offered by Media Services, can be used via the Internet or installed on your computer system. It handles digital products and sales of fractional content (chapters or other portions of a publication) as well as sales of entire publications for an unlimited number of contracts. The Web-based product starts at about $900 per month for a single user.
Check the Web site for a free 30-day trial of this new software, priced at $249 for a single-user system. The site describes it as having setup wizards that make it easy to use for the nontechnical and those without accounting experience.
Easy Royalties, thatsrights.com
Described as “Affordable desktop applications for publishers, packagers and agents,” this is a standalone program that requires you to enter sales data manually or import it from an Excel spreadsheet, CSV files, or another standard format. You can try it free for 30 days. Single-user pricing starts at $1,400 for 200 titles.
Infocrossing is a vendor of royalty calculating and processing services, not a software program, and requires that information be entered and retrieved online. The company offers different levels of service, including cutting checks. Fees depend on service level, number of contracts, and number of processing runs. The base charge is $2.50 per person per contract (in the event of multiple-royalty recipients per contract), and that base fee declines as the number of contracts increases. Processing runs are usually quarterly or semiannual, with a minimum charge of $500 per cycle. There is also a monthly maintenance fee. Robert Lucero, who handles Infocrossing client relations for publishers, cites continuity through publisher personnel changes as one reason to consider outsourcing for royalties.
I-Pro Business Systems, ipubtech.com
This start-up’s iPUB software is QuickBooks-compatible and is available online or in-house. Pricing for the I-Pro-hosted program starts at $199 per user per month. Site licensing has a higher one-time fee and an annual maintenance fee. Other installation fees are based on data conversion costs, amount of training, cost of server (for site license), and integration with other services such as e-commerce and EDI. The number of contracts is unlimited.
JAYA is a Web-based enterprise application sold by monthly subscription, with pricing based on how many orders you fulfill each month. Fees start at $15 for 200 orders per month. A free trial is available.
Sage MAS 90, sagemas.com
Sage, which also offers the Peachtree program, describes its MAS 90 as a more comprehensive small-business accounting software system. MAS 90 editions are designed for publishers who are migrating from more basic programs such as QuickBooks. Costs start at $3,800 and depend on configuration and number of concurrent users.
Besides the single-user freeware Lyric, Publishers’ Assistant offers Epic, multiuser software for larger publishers, available with a software support agreement for $35 per month. Upper Access publisher Steve Carlson says PubAssist software was designed to handle multiple-royalty authors, trade distributors such as IPG and Midpoint, and royalties that are computed when books are paid for rather than when they are shipped.
This Web-based, QuickBooks-compatible service can handle 10,000 contracts. The base program, which does not handle subsidiary rights, was priced at $12,500 annually in a 2009 promotion that may continue through July. You can try it for three months on a refundable basis.