The Authors Guild is warning authors about new language in contracts from Simon & Schuster that amounts to an enormous rights grab. The complete text of the Guild release follows after the jump.
Simon & Schuster is irked that we went public with our information about their unannounced new contract language. They’ve sent a release (you can read it below) accusing us of “perpetrat[ing] serious misinformation.”
That’s a heavy charge, so we went back and double-checked. We stand by every word of our statement.
Simon & Schuster’s release pretends that the argument concerns “print on demand.” That isn’t the issue. We like print on demand: we encourage publishers to sell books in every permissible way. You wouldn’t know it from reading its release, but Simon & Schuster already has the rights – as they have for years in their standard contract – to take advantage of print on demand and e-book technologies.
The issue is what happens when a book goes out of print, when the publisher is no longer selling it in meaningful numbers. Traditionally, rights then revert at the request of the author, who often is able to give the book a new life elsewhere. Simon & Schuster is trying to change the rules of the industry so that they never have to admit that a book is out of print.
We meant what we said in our press release and our alert to members:
1. Simon & Schuster’s new contract would indeed allow it to retain exclusive rights to a book even if it were no longer in print. Simon & Schuster’s contract says, “The Work shall not be deemed out of print as long as it is available in any U.S. trade edition, including electronic editions.” Having a book available for sale in some database – without the obligation to sell a single copy – is not keeping a book “in print” as common sense and the industry have defined that term.
2. Simon & Schuster would, under its new contract, be empowered to exclusively control your rights even if your books aren’t available for sale through traditional bookstores. E-book availability (read any good e-books lately?) would be enough to fulfill Simon & Schuster’s contractual commitments under its interpretation of “in print.” Roy Blount is plainly right, this contract would allow Simon & Schuster to squirrel away rights.
3. Simon & Schuster’s press release avowals about its promotional efforts as it pursues “incremental income” for backlist titles are not legally binding. Simon & Schuster goes on at some length about efforts to market backlist titles including “regularly review[ing] inventory opportunities with all our accounts” and engaging in the “distribution of online assets (cover, bios, synopses, chapters) and data feeds about basic information” on backlist titles to retailers. Whatever the merit of these efforts, Simon & Schuster carefully avoids committing to them on behalf of authors with books relegated to the backlist.
4. Simon & Schuster’s efforts to alter the true core deal of a trade book contract – that a publisher controls the right to sell an author’s book only so long as the publisher effectively exploits that right – demanded exposure. Agents reported to us that Simon & Schuster had slipped the change into its contracts without alerting agents to the alteration, which was quite subtle and easily missed. Agents also reported that when they discovered the change and questioned the publisher about it, Simon & Schuster played hardball, saying the clause was non-negotiable and wouldn’t be discussed. In its release, Simon & Schuster seems miffed that we didn’t discuss their new contractual language with them before exposing it to sunlight. Engaging in discussions with a conglomerate playing hardball while authors may have been unwittingly signing rights away would, in our view, have been irresponsible.
We welcome and will take Simon & Schuster up on its offer to discuss this matter. We hope to report soon that it has rejoined the ranks of publishers who behave as responsible stewards of their authors’ copyrights.
In the meantime, if you have an offer from Simon & Schuster, remember that the publisher has now said it will negotiate this clause on a book-by-book basis. If you’re fortunate, Simon & Schuster will offer you a reasonable out-of-print clause. (Feel free to discuss this with us or talk to your agent about the adequacy of the clause.) If not, it’s in your interest to explore your options – other publishers have reaffirmed that they’re not following Simon & Schuster’s example. If you have a manuscript that may be auctioned, it’s in your strong interest to ask your agent to exclude Simon & Schuster imprints unless they agree before the auction to use industry standard terms.