Desert Places_cover On his blog, author Joe Konrath has posted a guest column by his friend and collaborator Blake Crouch. It focuses on the subject of rights reversion—the idea, written into contracts, that once certain conditions are met (or fail to be met), the rights to an author’s books revert back to him, meaning he is free to take them elsewhere or publish them himself.

Crouch was unsatisfied with the way his publisher was handling two of his books, Desert Places and Locked Doors—offering them on the Kindle store at $6.99, a price he felt was much too high. He had his agent look into the performance of those books, and it turned out that contractually the rights should have been reverted.

So Crouch requested reversion from the publisher, and it took six months (the amount of time specified by the contracts) to get the rights back—after which he commissioned new covers and posted the novels to Amazon himself at a more reasonable price of $2.99.

It’s an interesting piece, as Crouch goes further into the nitty gritty of how rights reversions work and offers some sales figure comparisons. For me, it was an interesting reminder of some of the e-book paranoia of a few years back.

I remember that some people were seriously worried that e-books and print-on-demand would mean “the end of rights reversion”—could a book that was always available electronically or from a superannuated copy machine ever be considered “out of print”? But the more realistic outcome is that authors and agents who worry about that would simply make sure their future contracts specified more concrete terms with no loopholes.

Not that publishers aren’t trying to sneak things in. An April 2010 post on the National Writers Union blog warns against the e-book contract amendments they’ve been sending some writers:

When you sign an e-book amendment, you should also look at how this impacts your rights reversion clauses. Some publishers may try to claim that your book is still in print – even if it is not selling and is not being promoted by the publisher – because an e-book version is always available. Again, this is something you should discuss with your contract advisor.

With interest in backlist titles heating up, e-books reaching the kind of critical mass where authors like Konrath can make money from self-publishing, and the deadline for a major “get-out-of-contract-jail-free card” on the horizon, I expect to hear a lot more about rights reversion from all sides in coming months.


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