Going Out of Print in a Digital World

Cross-posted from: Americas Studies

What does it mean to go out of print in a digital world? This is question I had not thought about until I joined Authors Alliance today. I learned about this group through my colleague, Dr Orla Murphy. Authors Alliance is a group based on the promotion of “authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read. We embrace the unprecedented potential digital networks have for the creation and distribution of knowledge and culture. We represent the interests of authors who want to harness this potential to share their creations more broadly in order to serve the public good.” Basically, I agree with the aims and I fully support anything that helps to promote readership and protect the rights and freedoms of authors.

So I started exploring their blog and watched the following video:

This was shot at an event in Harvard University called “Authorship in a Digital World: How to Make it Thrive.” Even just the first 20 minutes made me think of so many issues I had never really considered in too much depth before now: what happens when book goes out of print? How does this impact the rights of the author/s? How does e-publishing effect contracts and ownership?

The first speaker, Katie Hafner, told her story of how she became involved with Authors Alliance while trying to regain the rights to her book after it had gone out of print. Her attempts were complicated by a clause in her contract that stated that if her book sold 250 ebooks  or more then it was not technically out of print. Firstly, I did not know that authors would have any right to regain control of their book if it went out of print. Secondly I had never considered how e-publishing could have such an impact author’s rights. Hafner’s story also highlighted the importance of reading publishing contracts thoroughly.

Something that also came through in this talk  was another potential for self-publishing that I had not considered. I usually associate self-publishing with authors who have tried but not succeeded in securing a publisher for their book. However, it would seem that self-publishing is also an option for those authors who did find publishers and, for one reason or another, found that their book went out of print.

However, there is still the issue of e-publishing and the complications it presents to the author when trying to regain rights to one’s book. Perhaps this will be one of the positive things than can come out of an organisation like Authors Alliance: greater clarification in contracts for authors of the roles of print and e-publishing, and clearer definitions of what it means to “go out of print” in a “digital world.”