The Author’s Guild and its members are not the only ones citing the dangerous path Simon & Schuster (S&S) has chosen in changing their contract language concerning book rights and electronic warehousing. Jim Milliot at Publisher’s Weekly continues his chronicle adding the concern of a number of agents. Writer’s House Simon Lipskar calls it a “rights grab” and worries about the impact on his clients. Gail Hochman, president of the Association of Authors Representatives, considers the change “a mistake.” Brian DeFiore of DeFiore and Company, says S&S is “asking for something no one else has.”
Clearly S&S has chunked a massive stone into the big publishing pond and the result will continue to churn for some time. Agents and authors will have to think long and hard before they even consider approaching S&S. If other publishers move in the same direction, all authors may have to rethink their game plan. Milliot cites George Borchardt of the George Borchardt Agency as seeing the change having the potential to create a two-tiered system where only big authors would get a decent contract.
And where is Simon and Schuster in all this? Why on the side of the authors, of course.
This is a huge shift in perception by a traditional publisher about the reality of today’s publishing market. With the advent of electronic publishing, writers have had to deliberate over which publishing avenue to take. At a certain point, many must decide if they want to spend the months, even years, assailing the traditional publishers or consider whether it would be better to cozy up to the inviting electronic publishers. Those willing to devote a large chunk of time to marketing, hustling, and publishing opt for the self-publishing model. Still others take into consideration their potential for an audience, their need for immediate publication, and their sincere desire not to learn the ins and outs of the publishing trade and pounce on print on demand for their immediate needs. Now a traditional publisher has scanned the horizon and figured out that electronic publishing is here to stay. So they might as well gobble those rights up, too.
Simon & Schuster’s position is that they are offering a service to their authors and an “unprecedented opportunity.” Their authors will benefit because S&S will now be able to “keep their books alive and selling.” But will they? Or will Simon and Schuster opt to allow some of those rights to lay dormant? If not, will the books of the lower tier of authors be folded into such a large database that it will take a clever hacker with the patience and desire of Sisyphus to search and find such buried literary gems?
Am I overreacting? I don’t know. You have only to see how midlist authors fare to figure out that a publisher may devote its resources elsewhere and be completely willing to allow books to be pulled from the bookstore shelves. The technology may change, the acquisition of rights may evolve, but will the thinking of those who make decisions that control the life of a book and the direction of an author’s career change?