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Dorchester Publishing Closes Its Doors

9 March 2012

Publishers Weekly has a news item announcing that Dorchester Publishing has closed its doors and most, if not all, of its magazine and book titles will be sold in foreclosure.

Agent Kristin Nelson reports:

Last year when my lawyer and I sat in on the phone calls where Dorchester disclosed their financially precarious position, the list of creditors was part of that conversation. There are at least 6 companies that might find it worthwhile to force Dorchester into Bankruptcy to recover monies owed.

And I hope they do.

Link to the rest at Pub Rants and a link Kristin provides to a notice of a foreclosure sale.

Passive Guy doesn’t have any inside knowledge of this matter or of publishing contracts for the Dorchester Books being sold.

However, as a general proposition, if an author has signed a publishing agreement with a publisher, the publisher is free to pledge its interest in that agreement and the underlying book(s) as security for its debts.

If the publisher then fails to pay those debts, the lender/secured party can seize that publishing agreement and sell it to the highest bidder, whoever that may be. The author effectively has no control over who his/her publisher may be at that point.

While the purchaser of the contract has an obligation to honor its terms, it’s not difficult to imagine that some purchasers might be more inclined to honor contract terms and others might be more inclined to collect sales revenues without appropriate royalty payments.

When we talk about publishers failing, this is part of the story of what happens.

Thanks to Kris for the tip.

Legal Stuff

17 Comments to “Dorchester Publishing Closes Its Doors”

  1. Ya know, horror stories about Dorchester were circulating in the 1990s. Failing to pay royalties, ruining careers, sub-licensing best sellers to phantom publishers and counting on the writers never finding out. And yet, Dorchester stayed in business because writers AND agents kept giving them product. It’s wonderful that Nelson is on top of it now, but the real question is, why in the devil did she ever get her writers involved with Dorchester in the first place?

    • “The real problem, it seems to me, is not with the publishers; it’s with us. Publishing a book is a nearly irresistible lure to us. We’ll do anything, put up with anything, to see our words in print. What publisher can resist treating us the way we beg to be treated?

      “By the time we wise up, we’re hooked and afraid to rock the boat.”

      —Jaye Manus, PANdora’s Box, Oct. 1992

      Spot on, Jaye, spot on.

  2. I wonder how many more stories we’ll hear like this in the next year or two.

    • Yep, I think Dorchester is just the first of many…and wasn’t this the company that was putting up e-books of books they no longer had copyright licenses for? The authors had regained their rights and Dorchester still made e-books?

      • In the mid-90s Dorchester created a phantom publisher to produce cheapie paperbacks for sale to small markets. Zebra Books was in on the scheme, too. They issued many best selling books for which they never paid the writers a dime.

        Memory fails as to which writers were hit the hardest. I do remember finding a bunch of the books in a bin outside a Kansas bookstore.

        • I wonder if that was the Centurion published books I used to see in Big Lots and the Dollar Store? No ISBN, no way to connect the books to another publisher, Copyright date in Roman numerals to disguise how long ago some of them had been printer. Some had stickers with a new price on them, some had the price of $.99 printed on the cover– these particular books were published by Zebra rather than Centurion.

          • I cannot recall the details, Arachne. Centurion sounds about right. This was 94-95-96, thereabouts. It was much discussed at the RWA conference in St. Louis. Dorchester and Zebra were in on it together. Dorchester tried to deny they had anything to do with it, but they were found out and the sheer scope and gall of the theft flummoxed everybody.

            And yet… writers and agents kept making deals with both publishers.

            • Jaye —

              One of Dorchester’s surrogates/phantoms in 1991 was an outfit called BMI, or Book Margins, Inc. located in Pennsylvania. I still have both a BMI and Leisure edition of Harriette de Jarnette’s “The Golden Threshold.” When I found them, I notified RWA and somewhere I have the note from (iirc) Margaret Brownley about how virtually nothing could be done because these “special sales” were perfectly legal under the contract terms. And, folks, for what it’s worth, “reputable” publisher Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books did exactly the same thing to me in 2004 — 27,780 copies of one of my out of print titles reprinted and sold at 50-cents each with a $1 cover price. No, not remaindered copies, because the front and back advertising material is gone and the copyright page says they were printed September 2004, plus the covers lack embossing and ISBN numbers. This was a separate and special printing of a book that had gone out of print in 1997. My royalty rate was 2.25% on the $1.00 cover price of this “special sale.” Just like Leisure.

      • Sariah, that’s essentially correct. Brian Keene has documented events on his blog: http://www.briankeene.com/?p=10803

        There’s link at the top of the page that will take you to a timeline.

    • Good question, Abel.

  3. Please authors: as you negotiate contracts with publishers, please make sure you have reasonable reversion terms, like all rights reverting after three years. Do you really want your backlist tied up in bankruptcy court proceedings for years on end?

    • Catherine, some of these writers really believe their agents will “take care” of them. And yes, I have had a couple of writers say that to my face.

      This is why I’d contact PG the second one of these publishers even hinted at making me an “offer.”

  4. The contractual comments in the article demonstrate, yet again, that writers need to adopt more businesses orientated contract consultants.
    The quality of many of the contracts being recommended by many writers groups and guilds are utterly atrocious in their naivete.
    Catherine is complete correct and writers need to pay far more attention to reversions and what trigger reversions, such as change of ownership, times certain and other important events.
    Suzan is also correct. Writers over he decades have clearly been willing to hand over their work to Agents and Publishers almost like a hot potato once they get their advance, imagining that they will all play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

  5. I know at least one author caught in this mess. She’s been trying for months and months to just get her rights reverted–she doesn’t even care about the money that was stolen from her. Alas, it’s been impossible. It’s really sad.

    • Just a thought, but if this goes to a bankruptcy court she can then submit to the courts that she has the rights (if she can prove it by the contract) and it cannot be sold off. It would be something to get a lawyer involved in, but this might be a blessing in disguise. With a real bankruptcy a judge would be involved who will be looking at the legal side of things. Unlike Dorchester in the past.

  6. […] publisher bankruptcy on authors, I saw this post from The Passive Voice (which I highly recommend): Dorchester Publishing Closes Its Doors”. Talk about timing! Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggStumbleUponRedditLinkedInTumblrLike this:LikeBe […]

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