When Is a Book Out of Print?

When a publisher allows your book to go out of print, you have a right to have all rights revert back to you thanks to the “out of print” or “reversion of rights” clause in your contract.

But what does it mean to be out of print?

A clause in one academic press contract I reviewed as a National Writers Union book contract adviser attempted to define the term: “The Work will be considered to be ‘in print’ as long as copies are offered for sale through normal retail and wholesale channels by the Press or its licensee.”

Normal Retail Channels

A good beginning but it raised another question: What are “normal retail and wholesale channels”?

The phrase used to refer to print copies in inventory in the warehouse. If inventory dropped below a certain amount, publishers had to decide if they wanted to do another print run. This usually meant ordering a large enough run to get a low per-unit price. The total outlay was significant even if the per-unit price was minor.

Short-Run Printing Changes the Paradigm

Then came short-run printing. Suddenly, publishers could print small quantities, yes, even as low as 1, and still get decent per-unit prices. They could have no books in the warehouse and still claim they were in print and available for sale.

A second publisher dropped the pretense and made no reference at all to “in print”:

If within six months of a written request by the Author, the Publishers do not make the Work available for purchase in at least one English language edition, in any format, including copies manufactured on demand or electronically transmitted, then this Agreement will terminate, and all rights granted to the Publishers under this Agreement will revert to the Author.

Out of Print Requires New Definition

In both cases, your book will never be considered out of print or unavailable for sale.

It’s a tricky clause. Argue for the determining factor to be level of royalties earned over a certain period:

The Work shall be deemed out of print if no royalty payment has been issued in two successive royalty periods, whereupon all rights granted herein automatically revert to the Author.

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This piece was adapted from Ken Wachsberger’s You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You. Ken’s other books may be found here and here. For book coaching and editing help, or to invite Ken to speak at your meeting, email Ken at [email protected].

Do your members need to understand book contracts? Contact Ken at [email protected].

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