Monday, May 21, 2007

SFWA Statement in Support of Authors Guild Position on Simon & Schuster

I was just thinking to myself the other day, "Self, we haven't had a really good Us vs. Them donnybrook in the publishing industry in quite some time." Well, lo and behold, the fine folks over at Simon & Schuster decide to rectify that situation. And SFWA has leapt gamely into the breech, alongside the Author's Guild and other fine writerly institutions:
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Supports Authors' Guild Position on Simon & Schuster's Rights Grab

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., joins with the Authors Guild in decrying Simon & Schuster's recent decision to shift book titles that have reached the end of their shelf-lives into a Print-on-Demand program, instead of reverting rights to those titles to their authors. Simon & Schuster's decision expands upon an already-developing trend to use technologies, not to the benefit of authors, but as a way to seize rights that writers have traditionally taken for granted.

One of the most fundamental rights of book authors is the right to reclaim or "revert" licensed publishing rights when a book is no longer available through normal outlets of distribution or when it is selling only minimal copies. Traditionally, authors have retained their copyrights, licensing only certain specific rights to the publisher. Once the publisher has given up on the book, stopped promoting it, and is no longer able to bring about a minimum number of sales, the author could regain those rights and re-sell them to another publisher, one that might give the work a new chance with new promotion and renewed sales.

Most books sell best during a brief period when their publishers actively market them, but when that promotion stops, the average book's sales rapidly begin to decline. Currently, the author can choose either to let the book languish with its current publisher or revert the rights and try to resell them to another publisher who will actively market it.

Simon & Schuster wants to change the rules with new contract language that would empower them to keep control of a book for the entire length of its copyright, printing individual copies only when order requests are made with no motivation at all to boost sales with further marketing or promotion.

This decision by Simon & Schuster constitutes a massive rights grab and is an attempt to take advantage of authors. The members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. stand with the Author's Guild in this matter. We encourage other writers and artists groups to do so, as well, and we urge Simon & Schuster to rescind this pernicious policy.

Robin Wayne Bailey
SFWA, Inc.

Michael Capobianco
SFWA, Inc.

And Past Presidents of SFWA, including:

Jane Yolen
Joe Haldeman
Norman Spinrad
Catherine Asaro
James Gunn,
Marta Randall
Greg Bear
Jerry Pournelle
Paul Levinson
Sharon Lee
Robert Silverberg

The brou-ha-ha seems to be bearing early fruit: Already Simon & Schuster seem to be backtracking from their initial rights grab.


Anonymous said...

Isn't there room to question the original contract? I thought most contracts had an out clause where if the book was out of print for a certain amount of time authors could get their rights back. Does making something available POD count as still being published? This is the kind of question that wasn't even thought of five years or more ago so the companies are just acting out of self interest, which they have to do.

I agree that new writers should beware what is in effect giving away all their rights in perpetuity, but publishing is changing and perhaps (unlikely) this might be an evolution towards a more far-sighted strategy? Like you say publishers have become bogged down in the small window of opportunity for selling new books but perhaps if they have more fiscal interest in extending the shelf-life of their books it may help the author...eventually.

I know I'm living in a fantasy land, but that's the way I see new publishing going, even if the old can't shift to that mode.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Unfortunately, most publishers are using PoD as a backdoor way of keeping a book "in print" and thus not relinquishing their rights to it. Even if they do no promotion, the books don't appear on bookstore shelves and consumers aren't able to easily find a copy. Sadly, publishers are not friends of the author. While it might seem reasonable on the surface, the fact is that it hasn't worked out that way historically.