May 21st, 2007

books

to own or not to own, that is the question

Numerous emails have flown both inside the agency and outside the agency concerning the recent statement by Simon & Schuster that they were going to change their boilerplate contract. I'm a couple days late to the blogosphere conversation. You can read an article at Publishers Weekly Online that says a bit about agent reactions. My pal Kristin has had some comments the last few days. You can find other commentary of interest, along with a proposed alternative model here.

Also, go read Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware and the post on Booksquare. Really, you'll understand what is at stake much better. From Booksquare: "Simon & Schuster wants to own the rights to your book for the entire duration of the copyright. The good news is that you’ll be dead for 70 years of that time period; the bad news is that as long as S&S owns these rights, you can’t do a thing with your book."

In case you haven't been following along, I will explain. No, there is too much. I will sum up.

Thursday, the Authors' Guild issued a highly-circulated alert in which they objected a "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." S&S has countered by asserting that the Authors' Guild is over-reacting and the publisher says they will continue to negotiate in good faith on the subject of reversions. Most agents seem to be assuming a stance of skepticism until they have the opportunity to experience negotiations for themselves. I'll be waiting to see what happens with my next S&S agreement.

It's not that I'm a disbeliever in the long-tail approach, particularly when it comes to backlist titles that may have a tendency to languish. But one has to wonder what the motivation will be for the publisher to continue to make such books actively available in the case of terms such as S&S proposes.

The publishing standard has long been to establish a minimum sales requirement (say, xxx copies in two consecutive royalty periods) to constitute a book being in print if it is only available in POD or electronic versions. Smaller presses have offered non-exclusive terms with 30 day termination periods. An open-ended holding of rights such as S&S is currently proposing does not appear to be in the best long-term interests of the author.