Print-on-demand publishing has changed the concept of what it means for a book to be “out of print” — and not in favor of authors.
Traditionally, when a book went out of stock, upon the request of the author the publisher had the option of reprinting or reverting the rights of publication to the author. Now, with print on demand, books can in effect stay in print forever, potentially tying up a writer’s work indefinitely. A traditional reprint meant an investment in at least hundreds of copies but print on demand requires essentially no investment on the part of the publisher.
Chris Webb of Wiley’s Technology Division argues that “once a book has reached this point in its life it is a long shot to be successfully placed as an in-print (non-PoD) title elsewhere. As S&S is discovering, there may be life for books as a PoD titles but the same services that make it easy for the Publisher to offer the book as print on demand are also available to the author.”
Technology books, of course, have short life spans, and in most cases it would be a long shot for such books to find a new home. But many books do find reprint editions. At North Point Press and Mercury House we reprinted many previously published titles. One was West with the Night, which became a national bestseller after being neglected in its original publication life. While in many cases remaining with the original publisher in the form of print on demand could be the best option for the title, this should be a separate negotiation and not something that the publisher acquires by default.
- New York Times: “Publisher and Authors Parse a Term: Out of Print.”
- Chris Webb: “Going Out of Print — Simon and Schuster Changes the Rules.”
- “Out of Print” at the Publishing Wiki.