Danuta Kean alerts us to an article in yesterday's New York Times reporting a move by publishers Simon and Schuster which is seen as extremely worrying by the American Author's Guild. Traditionally, once books fall out of print, if the publisher is not prepared to reprint, the rights revert to the author, but it seems that a change in Simon and Schuster's author contract allows them to retain the rights as long as it exists in any form, including electronic.
Simon and Schuster claim that this is simply a response to new technology, ie print on demand, whereby it is no longer necessary for publishers to retain a minimum number of warehoused printed copies. However, Guild executive Paul Aiken sees great danger in print on demand which can mean that the book is available 'only in dribs and drabs' (and therefore not aggressively published) and this new contract as allowing Simon and Schuster to sit on the rights to a book indefinitely while they stop bothering to publish it altogether. “We’re not against the technology," he says, "we’re just against the technology being used to lock up rights.”
However, on the Guardian books blog, Nicholas Clee reports Mark LeFanu, general secretary of the UK Society of Authors, as seeing such changes in contracts as inevitable: "We need to work out a way in which we can give reasonable protection to publishers' interests while at the same time giving authors the opportunity to withdraw from contracts if sales are low."
Recently the Writer's Guild lawyer, vetting my contract with Salt, advised striking the clause which gave them electronic rights. But electronic rights are precisely the basis of Salt's innovative business model, and there was indeed a clause giving me back the rights if sales fall beneath a certain level within a certain time span.