This report from the Wall Street Journal by Yoree Koh goes into more detail:
Ever since the arrival of the slim and snazzy electronic book devices, the magnates of the traditional publishing industry have feared the worst: that precious big-name authors might sign directly with e-book retailers, relegating the old-school publishers as the dispensable middleman.
Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami plans to release his latest novel exclusively for digital bookworms through Apple Inc.’s iPad ahead of the print version. Mr. Murakami, the acclaimed author of over 15 novels including “Coin Locker Babies” and “In the Miso Soup”, replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book titled “A Singing Whale,” or “Utau Kujira” in Japanese. The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, according to the Japanese business daily Nikkei. The newspaper reports the e-book will cost 1,500 yen ($17) and will be ready to download pending Apple’s approval. Apple Japan and Mr. Murakami did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Mr. Murakami’s decision is the latest step taken by well known authors in re-writing the business model of the publishing industry – but it’s a step beyond what others have done. In April, the master penman of suspense, Stephen King, released the e-book edition of his newest work “Blockade Billy” one month before the hardcover version published by Scribner, an imprint of New York publishing giant Simon and Schuster, hit retail outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Mr. King also published a story, UR, exclusively for Kindle, the popular e-book reader produced by Amazon, around the time a newer version of the device was released in February 2009.
In December of last year, Amazon scored another success when business guru Steven Covey granted the online retailer exclusive e-book rights for two of his best-selling books for one year. Until recently, Mr. Covey’s move to shift older titles, also known as backlist titles – the warehouse of past best-selling books with strong staying power that provide publishers a steady revenue stream each year – to the digital sphere has been the more common rebellion among successful wordsmiths. Brazilian writer Paul Coehlo and the estate of the late American novelist William Styron also moved the rights to sell e-book editions of older works to Amazon.
But in offering fresh material only in an electronic format, Mr. Murakami’s plan has basically removed the traditional book publisher from the calculation entirely. Mr. Murakami’s past novels have been published by venerated Japanese companies like Kodansha. The company wasn’t immediately available for comment. The new equation, in theory, would give authors a bigger chunk of royalties. Mr. Murakami said his initial goal of 5,000 downloads would cancel out the investment costs, and if the plan is approved, Apple will receive 30% of the revenue with the rest to be parsed among Mr. Murakami, Mr. Sakamoto and the software company, according to the Nikkei.
UPDATE, 14:05 p.m. JST: Kodansha, Murakami’s publisher responds, saying it’s talking to the novelist about releasing a hard copy version of “A Singing Whale”, though nothing has been finalized.