Simon & Schuster is trying to redefine “out of print” — much to its authors’ chagrin. From the New York Times (“Publishers and Authors Parse a Term: Out of Print,” by Motoko Rich):
When is a book out of print?
A change in standard contract language at Simon & Schuster could effectively alter the answer to that question, and the Authors Guild, a trade group that says it represents about 8,500 published authors, is urging writers and agents to exclude the publisher from book auctions because of it.
Basically, most book contracts allow authors to reclaim the rights to their works if the publisher isn’t making them available for sale. But now, thanks to print-on-demand technology, Simon & Schuster is claiming that books don’t fall out of print until they say so: even if they’re not printing and shipping books, as long as a customer has the option of ordering even a single book through a POD vendor, the book remains in print, and Simon & Schuster continues to hold the rights.
This deprives writers of the chance to re-sell their work to a new publisher who will put a meaningful sales effort behind the book. It also reminds me of baseball before free agency. Would that free-agent authors became multimillionaires as often as do baseball players.