This week’s post is all about ownership in a changing (digital-)publishing environment.
First up is Amazon’s moves into publishing and not only distribution. Though this is not a new situation, with their self e-publishing programme, what has brought this into greater relief has been Amazon opening a number of reprint and debut e/print imprints. This seems to have put a bit of a freak in traditional publishers (or their commentators, at least.)
See Kiana Davenport, an established author of short fiction and a novelist. She writes about ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ in her blog. The story goes that after having signed a contract for her new novel, her publisher (“one of the big 6”) discovered that she had self-published a collection of short works from past years (during this contract period.) And they went wild, claiming she had breeched her contract. Of course, she says that she hasn’t.
What is so interesting, is the precedence of e-publishing and long tail sales on print. Davenport says, “in other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer, in a state of acquiescence…”
The result of this, however, is that the publisher is holding her novel to ransom for repayment of her advance and the cessation of their contract (originally it was to remove the texts from Amazon, and all mention of it from Google… but that was just weird.) While I wonder at the one-sided nature of the evidence of this case (had Davenport met her obligations to give them first refusal for her new work, for example?), it shows the uncertainty and fear surrounding the new publishing environment.
Then we have agency Curtis Brown and their new deal with MacMillan’s new e-imprint ‘Bello’ to bring out of ‘print’ works to the public. What is significant in this is the amount of these texts in the one deal: 520! Most of these are works from the literary estates that the agency manages and not from current authors. While the general deal that’s been made is concerning for individual authors who have been brought in on such a general deal, I really wonder about the reversion of their rights (at an undisclosed threshold—of sales?)
Which (in a lovingly out-moded print sense) is what is happening with Doranna Durgin and her Dun Lady’s Jess as reported on the wonderful Teleread. While Durgin has a history with ebook pioneer publisher Baen, the first of her book series had been republished by another publisher.
Since that print publication, however, the book has gone out of availability. Which is fine, except that now the publisher is disputing a request for the rights to revert to Durgin, saying that they still have 1600 copies of the work in their warehouse, and that she must buy them all back in order for the rights to revert. Right…
As Meadows finishes, “in this age of perpetual print via e-books [sic] and print-on-demand, contract language tying rights reversion to more specific conditions is very important—both for inclusion by the agent and author in the original contract, and for publishers honoring it when the conditions come to pass.”
The final point I wish to look at is from Richard North Patterson’s weird experience, where he’d found himself about to be publishing a new ebook about Osama bin Laden, The Devil’s Light just two days out from the news of his death! No problem! Patterson and his editor re-wrote sections of the text to reflect the new situation. Of course, this was after the hardcover publication of the book where bin Laden was still alive!
Not only does this bring up issues of textual stability (though how true is the involute text in literary history, anyways?) More interesting is the potential misuse of this re-versioning in maintaining corporate copyright of texts. ‘Dynamic ebooks’ like this would allow ‘new’ works to be generated almost continually.
These are only a few of the current (within the last few weeks) issues around ownership in publishing and electronic publishing. How do we deal (particularly) with this wild and complex balance between very different publishing paradigms?