More on S&S’s Boilerplate Contract Changes

By Carmen Comment

Simon & Schuster‘s boilerplate contract change to exclude a minimum threshold for determining whether a book should stay in print or not continues to get traction. AP’s Hillel Italie offers his own summary but also includes an intriguing nugget from an interview with S&S CEO Jack Romanos, who said that in an ideal market the only books he could envision going out of print were time-sensitive works such as tax guides – and that fiction titles especially should never go out of print. That opinion was seconded by HarperCollins president and CEO Jane Friedman, also interviewed by Italie last week. “No. In one word, no. There is no reason for a fiction title to go out of print, because you never known when there is going to be an audience for that book,” she said.

Which brings us back to print-on-demand. In a follow-up email, S&S spokesman Adam Rothberg explained that the earlier version of the boilerplate contract “reflected a time when p.o.d. was nascent and not-ready for prime time. This brings it into the era when p.o.d. is an established printing technology and p.o.d. books are readily available for sale.” But agent David Black told the NYT’s Motoko Rich that in reality, if a book is available only through print-on-demand, “an author’s book is going to be available in dribs and drabs.” He added: “If there is the possibility that I can take this book and place it somewhere else where somebody is going to publish it more aggressively than on a print-on-demand basis, shouldn’t I have the opportunity to do that?”

In the blogosphere, reaction to S&S’s changes has been almost universally negative. “This approach even removes any requirement that they include your book in an online catalog of their offerings to encourage readers to find and purchase the book. That’s a crock,” declares Maya Reynolds. Literary agent Kristin Nelson flatly wonders what S&S is thinking. “I know what I’m going to be thinking if they adhere to this “new” boilerplate language and that is that I might need to sell my projects elsewhere.” But Juno Books’s Paula Guran wants to remind people that the changes are to a boilerplate contract…which can then be negotiated. “As an agent, I assume a contract is meant to be negotiated. It may be fine as offered. It may not. My client and his project may have specific rights that must be protected or compensated that other authors don’t.”