That pesky life is catching up with me and I’ve been overwhelmed with “stuff” the last couple of days. I’ll try to do a blog of substance tomorrow, but for today, I thought I’d answer one question that was asked last week:
I have a question about publishing rights for the author. Is it a given that the publishers keep the publishing rights indefinitely on the books they publish or is there the ability for the author to keep rights to republish it say ten or twenty years down the line?
Most all publishing contracts allow the publisher to declare a book “out of print.” This means that:
1) The publisher is not printing more copies because sales are too slow to justify doing so right now.
2) The publisher does not guarantee that it will print more copies, even if its warehouse is totally empty.
It does not mean that the publisher has given up rights to print more copies later, if demand should pick up. So the book might be in limbo, with no copies available and with the publisher unwilling to print more. Most contracts specify that the book won’t remain in limbo indefinitely. The author has a right to request “reversion of rights” when a book has been out of print for a certain length of time.
Note that the publisher will typically want to liquidate its inventory before it reverts rights to the author. If there are only a few dozen copies left, then the author can buy the books back. Even if there are a few hundred left, the author might find it useful to buy them all, because usually you can get them very cheap. It sometimes happens that that there are many thousands of copies left unsold. Few authors can afford to buy all those copies, so it may take a while to liquidate them.
Eventually, the author should get the rights back.
One trend in contracts is to switch the book to Print On Demand when the publisher deems it not cost effective to print a big load of copies. In that case, the book will never technically go out of print (because POD books can be printed and shipped overnight). So this trend means that in the future, books will always be available.
Is that good or bad? I’m not sure. It sounds good to always have your book in print and available. However, you can bet the publishers will write the contract to be as favorable to them as possible. (Whoever writes the contract always does this, so don’t be too harsh on publishers.) It is up to you and your agent to tilt the table back your way by making sure the contract is fair.
In any event, this is a trend to watch.