May 24, 2007

Changing the Rules: Simon & Schuster

One of my Cybils Sisters, Jackie, pointed out something else really weird going on at a publishing company. Now, not only do Simon & Schuster enjoy the ability to allow people to trade futures on the profitability of them publishing certain manuscripts, now they seem to have also decided to keep book rights... forever. The Seattle Times reports that Simon and Schuster are offering what, on the surface, appears to be something terribly attractive -- the ability to never have your books go out of print.

The attractiveness to me, however, stops there -- on the surface. Publishing rights are usually purchased for only a certain number of copies of a book, therefore the relationship of any author with a publisher is provisional, based on the number of books sold during a limited time. After this time, the contract dissolves, leaving the author free to revise the work and resell it, or leave it as a part of the literary past, locatable only in libraries and used book stores.

The most important part of that last phrase is leaving the author free. Being involved with a publisher means, in part, having them have their say on your work. We all want to be immortal and be published forever, but it seems a high price to pay to never be the one to own full rights to your own work again.

Author's Guild, the professional writer's advocacy group, decries Simon & Schuster/Penguin Putnam's quiet changing of their contract wording as an attempt to change the face of publishing, and to never admit that a book is out of print. Sadly, both Simon & Schuster's News Release page and their Discussion Boards page on the company website are down, so I could not get their take on this, though their spokespeople have already accused Author's Guild of “perpetrat[ing] serious misinformation.” However, I have read their contract, and I can see how Author's Guild's interpretation could be understood. I am very much interested to see how this tug-of-war will play out.
Meanwhile, fun linguistic timewasters abound at Kelly's, and I am so stacking my pile of 48 Hour Reading Challenge books up next to my bed, because seriously: Shakespeare Really Hates My Emo Poems. And I need that Threadless hoodie! (By the way, if you ever want to kill a fun hour, there's another time waster - that whole website. My next project in my prodigious free time is to design a t-shirt. Glee!)

Poetry Friday is being held at A Wrung Sponge. Until then, I leave you with sinister limericks!

A lugubrious lady of Lawrence
Would regard each new day with abhorrence.
"When I wake up," she said,
"Just to get out of bed
Seems a good deal more work than it warrants."

"Sinister Limericks" and "Assorted Pentastiches" by X.J. Kennedy, from Peeping Tom's Cabin: Comic Verse 1928-2008. © BOA Editions, 2007. Find more here.


Vivian Mahoney said...

That's interesting info on the publishing companies. Thanks for sharing.

David T. Macknet said...

Generally, publishers have a vested interest in selling your work, in that they have to warehouse anything which isn't moving. So, they market, in order to 1) make money upon sales, and 2) not lose money by having to pay for storage space.

If a publisher, therefore, does not have the expense of warehousing, they then have no negative incentive to prod them into selling the work, while, simultaneously, they retain the copyright.

Which prevents you from leasing the copyright to some other publisher which will actually market your work. And also prevents you from selling any derivatives. Thus, you have, in effect, sold control of your work outright.