Publishing contracts are changing. Many clauses are having to be redefined to take account of the new realities of digital publishing.
Traditionally rights often revert to the author when the book goes out of print, because that’s the end of its life with that publisher. But if the book never took the form of print on paper in the first place, that definition is very misleading. The book is selling hundreds of copies a week in ebook format and print-on-demand, and yet there are no copies in the warehouse. According to the contract, it is technically ‘out of print’, and has been since day one.
Clearly neither the publisher nor the author would want rights to revert with that level of sales, so we need a new way of determining the end of a book’s life. The solution I favour is to agree on a level of sale, so rights will revert if sales fall below a certain number, and stay there for an agreed amount of time. An example might be “fewer than 10 copies sold in three consecutive royalty periods”.
The ‘out of print’ clause is just one of the ones having to be redefined to reflect the way books are actually being published. More thoughts on how digital publishing is changing contracts in my next post.