Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A questionable practise

Going on from what I said yesterday re the Espresso Machine and how Blackwells are embracing this technology, I sent the information on this to Richard, who is of course the boss at Authors OnLine, and he sent an interesting response to the effect that in time this could cut out not only the middle men, such as wholesalers and the like, but also the POD providers themselves. After all, these machines hold the entire inventory for all books available through Lightning Source, the largest print on demand printer in the UK and North America (Booksurge take note), so it should be theoretically possible to bypass the POD providers and just print out books in store.

This may sound noble and full of appeal, but authors will always want and need to have paper copies to sell themselves, and also need the expertise and help that only an experienced publishing company can provide. Richard has many useful contacts who have helped me in various ways, whom I would not have had access to otherwise. It is true that I may have found other ways to form such contacts, but it would have taken considerable time and effort on my part, time which since I returned to work, is in short supply.

Print on demand is in the news this week in more ways that one, since Random House are embroiled in a dispute with some of their authors regarding new contracts for such books. This echoes the dispute in America last year with Simon and Schuster.

The controversy hinges on the definition of the term out of print in the new digital environment, since technically, as long as the publisher pays their annual fee to the POD printer to maintain their files, print on demand titles never are out of print. These new contracts state that rights will only revert back to the author if the publisher cannot supply a physical (paper) or electronic copy of the book within one month, or if there has been no royalty payment for one year.

In other words, the publisher may no longer be actively promoting the work, and may not have sold a copy in over a year, but as long as they can produce a book within a one month cycle, then the author is unable to terminate the contract. Print on demand may have its advantages, but a contract such as this will favour no one except the publisher, and certainly not the author.

A spokesperson for Random House said "When we acquire a new title, we commit to the author to do the very best job we can to publish and sell their book. Understandably, we believe we should have the right to continue to sell that book for as long as there is a viable market for it and responsibly take advantage of all new digital technologies. "We continue to work closely with the author and agent community to implement terms that are fair, but also reflect the fast-changing nature of the modern publishing industry."

What though is a viable market? I think that most would agree that a book has to sell more than one copy per year to be considered so. It does not take a genius to work this out. These proposed contracts then benefit no one except the publisher, who will do basically sod all, locking the author in to a contract which offers no benefit to them at all. They would from where I am sitting, be better off going to a POD provider like I did, and paying to have their work published, as they stand to earn a lot more money. Furthermore, most offer non exclusive contracts which state that if the author wishes to terminate the contract for whatever reason, they can do so with three months notice.

Random House have obviously learnt nothing from Simon and Schuster's example, and I think they will find that they too are forced to backtrack, as no sensible author or agent for that matter, would endorse these contracts.

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