Is this another anti-Amazon Smokescreen from Publishing’s Big Boys?

Is there a smokescreen being created by publishers as Amazon threatens POD for out of print titles? A book should never go out of print! Surely this is the publisher’s obligation to keep their back-list available and a move to POD for titles which have ran their course with a publisher is a simple and effective solution to keeping books in the hands of readers and author’s fans. There was an argument which I saw recently that some publishers are worried because the quality of POD is inferior. All the more reason for publishers to source an excellent POD supplier and provide the quality they can control. By the same token Amazon have no right to simply hi-jack titles and print them POD  but the onus is on the publisher to ensure that authors can generate income from their back-list.

If any authors are struggling with this issue with their publisher then it really needs to be confronted head-on with the publisher and the author’s agent if he or she has one. Clauses must be added to contracts which guarantee the availability of titles through POD once a print run has been exhausted.

POD used to be a dirty word but I guarantee many readers would not spot the difference between an excellent POD title and a print run book. I can honestly say that many of our POD titles have actually been better than the print runs supplied by one of the UK’s leading printers.

Amazon’s tactics here may be viewed as being wrong but what they are exposing is a very real neglect of many author’s who simply fall off the radar because the publisher is too busy pursuing the next 12 year old literary genius or d-list celebrity memoir. Clearly Amazon cannot simply produce a POD version without the consent of the publisher but this state of affairs should not be allowed to happen in the first instance. Publisher’s look after you author’s and ensure that while under contract their books are always available. It’s that simple really.



Why is this an issue NOW?

I'm pretty sure these exact arguments came up around fifteen years ago when e-books first became commercially available. Not only would e-books never go "out of print" themselves, but print on demand tech was on the horizon then, too. (I remember a late '90s article about it in Salon, about the same time as the articles breathlessly extolling the e-book readability of Palm Pilots.)

Savvy writers and agents have had fifteen years to ensure their contracts included reversion clauses that didn't depend on the old "out of print" saw. If they didn't bother when e-books first trickled out, they might have at least seen the writing on the wall six or seven years ago, when Amazon kickstarted an e-book market that actually worked. 

So why is print on demand suddenly the bogeyman now all of a sudden?

Assisted Suicide

Thanks for the clarification as the article I read (not Philip's piece) put a very different angle on it. Publisher's have to look long and hard at Amazon's terms before signing new terms. I can't see how this can go through unless the industry is weak and does not unite against it. Amazon would surely need to state what the minimum stock they propose keeping.


Philip Jones's picture

It's not a smokescreen put out by the big publishers as the article you refer published by The Bookseller was not sourced from anyone from within a big publisher; and second as John says, it is not about out of print, but out of stock. There is a discussion, of course, to be had about POD and which parts of the publishing process it can help with. You are are right about backlist, though some small publishers still tell me that they find it more cost effective to keep a small numer of titles in stock, rather than go down the POD route, especially those such as Pushkin Press, where quality of print and production is part of the product selling point.

Careful over definitions

John Pettigrew's picture

As I read the coverage of this issue, it's not books going formally out of print. Amazon are asking for the rights to print any book that's merely out of stock at Amazon.

Thus, it's massively in Amazon's interest to hold very small stocks of titles (because, after all, they're in control of their stock levels) and then simply print anything when they sell a copy.

Needless to say, this is NOT in the publishers' best interest (and nor, probably, in the authors' either), hence Philip Jones's description of this as 'assisted suicide'.

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