From The Authors Guild:
From The Authors Guild:
Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.
That’s the way most book contracts have been drafted for more than a century, and publishers take it for granted; only a few brave souls have asked why or argued with it because that’s the way it has always been. In the ideal traditional publishing partnership—where the publisher nourished the author’s career; where the same editor worked closely with the author over decades, editing and reworking books and new book ideas; where the publisher actively marketed and promoted the author and gave the author a sufficient advance to live on between books—then it might have made sense for the publisher to own the rights for the entire copyright term. But that is the rare author-publisher relationship today.
. . . .
Authors victimized by this status quo know that it’s long past time for publishers to offer a fair deal. We believe three basic changes are urgently needed: (1) time-limited contracts, (2) a clause that provides for reversion of unexploited rights, and (3) a specific new unchallengeable definition to replace historic “out of print” clauses that are not remotely relevant in the electronic age.
When it comes to time limits in agreements, publishers historically have positioned themselves on the lucrative side of the line. With authors, the deal they offer basically lasts forever. But when they’re on the other side of the deal, licensing things like paperback reprints or foreign rights to other companies, publishers typically don’t make agreements that continue for the life of a book’s copyright. Instead, the contracts are good only for fixed periods—seven years, for example. If publishers can routinely demand licenses that expire, why shouldn’t authors?
We think the “standard” contract should last for a limited period of time from the date of publication; it should end well before the 35-year termination window opens. When the contract expires, if a book is still doing well, the author and publisher might negotiate another time-limited deal—or the author might choose to move the book to a house that has put more effort into marketing the author’s later works. If the book is no longer gaining support from the original publisher, the author might choose to self-publish it or take it to another publisher. In any case, a time-limited contract gives authors the leverage and flexibility that they need in today’s publishing environment.
. . . .
That brings us to the third step: the “out of print” clause, which has failed woefully to keep up with modern publishing practices and must be replaced. The original concept was straightforward: When a publisher fails to keep a book on the market in a profitable way, the author should get all the rights back. This is more important today than ever, since e-books and print-on-demand make it easy for authors to republish their backlists: a recent study conducted by the British Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) showed that 70% of authors who were able to reclaim their rights were able to earn more money from the work in question.
. . . .
The remedy is simple: Kill the entire outmoded concept of “out of print.” Instead, the contract should define when book rights are being “inadequately exploited” and therefore available for reversion to the author when the book fails to generate a certain amount of income—say, $250–$500—in a one-year period. Using income as the yardstick, not a specific number of sales, is essential: Publishers might otherwise be able to game the clause by offering one-cent e-books the way they’ve gamed existing clauses by using e-books and print-on-demand.
Link to the rest at The Authors Guild and thanks to Melinda for the tip.
PG will note that The Authors Guild proposal for revised out of print provisions is identical to A Minimum Wage for Authors which PG first publicly suggested in 2011.
He believes that the $250-500 per year threshold for reversion is too low, however. This is especially true if the threshold amount is not indexed for inflation (another PG suggestion from 2011). In the US at least, we’ve become accustomed to very low rates of inflation during the past several years. However, PG believes this is not the new normal.
$250 might not buy you a hamburger at McDonalds in a few decades. In 1964, a McDonalds hamburger cost 15 cents.