I joined the Authors Guild in 1978. It’s a terrific organization, one I’m always glad to pay annual dues to. Its Backinprint.com program has brought back four of my out-of-print hardcover books in print-on-demand paperbacks; I’ve got a really sweet deal on an author’s website through the Guild; and, before I became a lawyer myself, got great legal advice from their counsel. I urge everyone who’s published a book to join the Authors Guild.
Anyway, they also send out e-mail alerts from time to time. This one just showed up in my inbox:
Simon & Schuster has changed its standard contract language in an attempt to retain exclusive control of books even after they have gone out of print. Until now, Simon & Schuster, like all other major trade publishers, has followed the traditional practice in which rights to a work revert to the author if the book falls out of print or if its sales are low.
The publisher is signaling that it will no longer include minimum sales requirements for a work to be considered in print. Simon & Schuster is apparently seeking nothing less than an exclusive grant of rights in perpetuity. Effectively, the publisher would co-own your copyright.
The new contract would allow Simon & Schuster to consider a book in print, and under its exclusive control, so long as it’s available in any form, including through its own in-house database — even if no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.
Other major trade publishers are not seeking a similar perpetual grant of rights.
We urge you to consider your options carefully:
1. Remember that if you sign a contract with Simon & Schuster that includes this clause, they’ll say you’re wed to them. Your book will live and die with this particular conglomerate.
2. Ask your agent to explore other options. Other publishers are not seeking an irrevocable grant of rights.
3. If you have a manuscript that may be auctioned, consider asking your agent to exclude Simon & Schuster imprints unless they agree before the auction to use industry standard terms.
4. Let us know if other major publishers follow suit. Any coordination among publishers on this matter has serious legal implications.
Feel free to forward and post this message in its entirety.
The Authors Guild (www.authorsguild.org) is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of published book authors.
I wonder if this is in anticipation of making on-demand printing and ebooks a viable means of producing books. If it becomes feasible to makes books printable on-demand in a bookstore or simply distribute them as ebooks (as opposed to current models in that direction), publishers may push harder for perpetual licenses on books. We might do well to push back by having our agents build sunset clauses into our contracts to counter this trend. After all, we’re rapidly approaching the day when “out of print” is an obsolete term. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
As I said, through the Authors Guild/iUniverse Backinprint.com program, I’ve been able, at no real cost, to “bring back” my first four hardcover OOP books. That happened only because the publishers’ rights to them ended when they went out of print. What Backinprint does is shoot the original pages (I had to supply them with two copies of the book to tear apart) and digitize them and slap paperback covers on them. You find out about the program at http://www.backinprint.com.
Of course my books were originally published before print-on-demand existed in any feasible way.