Out of Print Out of Date

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.

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  1. if no one wrote anything new it would be such a dull world! Where is your enthusiasm!
    Self defeatist attitudes will get you nowhere! Never give up!

  2. Angie, I’ve let your comment run, but I don’t really see how it’s relevant.

  3. How funny ( amusing I mean) if you dont think its relevent then you don’t seem to get many hits! What i meant was that the world of publishing seems to put off so many people from writing, surely if they just got on with it and tried then they would eventually get somewhere, by the way cheer up! You sound really tired!

  4. Angie, right now I get about a thousand visits (not hits, which would be a much bigger number) a day at this site.

    What this post was about is how the out-of-print clause is defined in a publishing contract. Print-on-demand has changed the nature of what constitutes out of print. This is an issue for authors who have already published a book, not for those who have an unpublished book they are trying to place. By using POD to keep a book from going out of print, publishers may inhibit the ability of an author to reprint the title with another house.

    Are you aware that every sentence you have written ends with an exclamation mark? Consider varying your punctuation. Just a thought.