Here’s the thing: no one makes much money from small press in Australia.
Writers don’t get rich publishing through small presses, and the small presses are run for love not money. Some of them simply implode after being run by well-meaning and enthusiastic amateurs who don’t understand things like the need for marketing or covers that don’t look like someone’s three-year-old did it.
There needs to be a balance, a partnership between writer and small publisher and part of that needs to be an acknowledgement of rights and their worth.
If your story is being purchased for a hard copy anthology, then the purchase price for that instance of publishing must be separate from the purchase price of the rights for an ebook publishing instance. If you’re being offered the same amount of money for both, together, as you would be for the hard copy anthology, then think long and hard before you accept the deal. You’re putting a bargain-basement price on yourself and your writing. You’ll set a precedent and if you question it for a later publication, you may well get ‘Why are you asking this now? You were okay with it last time!’ Of course, no one can buy your right to change your mind.
Here’s another thing: if a writer sells a book or story to a large publisher, the large publisher will offer two separate sums for the two separate rights they are wanting to buy. Equally, if a writer publishes their own work on Smashwords or such other such DYI electronic publishing platform, they take all the profits.
eBooks aren’t an opportunity for publishers (regardless of size or financial backing) to offer the writer nothing for those rights while taking any and all profits that may result from an ebook.
Am I saying screw everything you can out of your small publisher?
No, absolutely not. But I am saying there is the principle of being paid for your work – for all of it. There is the principle of not signing away your various rights in a blind and desperation desire to be published. Publishers, small and large, must acknowledge that writing and the production of saleable items is not simply a hobby for writers.
Realistically, an ebook is probably not going to make heaps of money, but there should be an acknowledgement from the publisher that they are buying rights, not just getting the digital rights thrown into the doggie bag for free. Even if it is a token amount for the ebook rights – $10 or $20 – it says to a writer that their professionalism is being recognised. It says that a publisher isn’t trying to go ‘Huzzah! We get to have all the ecake profits’. Having an ebook AND a hard copy means a publisher has two artefacts for sale, not just one, and it increases the number of potential buyers – you don’t just have the folk who like hard copies, you get the people who are after soft copies for their Kindles, Kobos, iPhones, etc.
Keep in mind that this is probably more important in the case of an original publication. When it comes to reprint anthologies for something like a ‘Best of’ collection, you’ve already been paid and a ‘Best of’ is the icing on the cake. The principle remains, though of being acknowledged for the value of your work.