Friday, May 18, 2007

Simon & Schuster Takes A Bold Step

7:30 AM--I wrote this post at midnight last night. Since then, it has occurred to me that the Authors Guild were the ones who sued Google for its Book Search program. And, quite frankly, they had NO idea what they were talking about. See my explanation here.

As I think about it now, it's probable that they are knee-jerking again. I'll explain more later today after I have time to think about it.


The Authors Guild, which bills itself as "the nation's largest and oldest society of published authors," issued a press release today.

The release said, in part:

NEW YORK-- Simon & Schuster [S&S], one of the largest book publishers in the U.S., has altered its standard contract with authors in an effort to retain 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 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.

With the new contract language, the publisher would be able stop printing a book and prevent the author from publishing it with any other house. "A publisher is meant to publish, to get out there and sell our books,” said Authors Guild president Roy Blount Jr. "A publishing house is not supposed to be a place where our books are permanently squirreled away.”

All major trade publishers have been willing to acknowledge the requirement of some minimum level of economic activity in order for them to retain exclusive rights to a manuscript. Typically, such clauses obligate a publisher to sell a few hundred books a year. Simon & Schuster has been signaling, however, that it will no longer accept a minimum sales threshold.

This is huge. Now, when you sign a contact with S&S, you are essentially giving them ownership of your work. You can no longer place it with other publishers--EVER.

In my present contract, my agent inserted a clause indicating that--unless my publisher sells a certain number of books per year--the rights revert to me upon my written request for their return.

I can understand S&S's thinking (without agreeing with them). I've been talking about the concept for nearly a year. What it boils down to is: With the Internet, a book can remain "in print" forever. They're simply trying to take advantage of that and use their new contract to lock in a right they're not entitled to. AND by removing the requirement that they sell a certain number of books a year, they're making it impossible for you to ever get your rights back.

This approach even removes any requirement that they include your book in an online catalog of their offerings to encourage readers to find and purchase the book. That's a crock.

IMHO, reality is that the Internet has the capacity to make publishers redundant, meaning, the Internet may make it possible for writers to be in a position to publish their work without the assistance of a publisher.

I'll talk about that more tomorrow.

In the meantime, read on. This is a two-post day.