The devil you know

<p>The relevance of reversion clauses in the digital era is one of the more emotive topics of conversation between authors, agents and publishers. But what is all the fuss about? Surely the digital era and print-on-demand technology represent a unique opportunity for all parties, with all books instantly available to consumers, 24/7?</p>
<p>It is such an emotive subject because no one can accurately predict exactly what impact technological advances will have on the industry, and hence the consequences of decisions made today. Comparisons to the music industry are unlikely to be helpful, as most consumers get enormous pleasure from owning and reading a book in paper format. However, with teenagers now spending more time reading or viewing content on a screen than on paper, it is easy to see that the digital era will have a major impact on the future of the trade book industry, especially when the iPod equivalent for reading is released.</p>
<p>So where are the battle lines? Well, authors/agents are concerned that publishers are attempting to grab rights for the full term of copyright whether they do a good or a bad job in marketing the work. Publishers, meanwhile, are investing millions of pounds in secure digital archives and distribution platforms, and understandably want to ensure that their investment is protected. Publishers believe that the listing of a work in a catalogue and making it available on websites ensures they are taking the steps to make the work available that the traditional out-of-print clause tried to ensure, whereas authors and agents believe that rights should revert if a minimum sales level is not achieved.</p>
<p>However, if a publisher has made a significant investment in a work and has ensured its availability but sales still don&rsquo;t reach the minimum level, then is it fair and reasonable that rights should revert, especially if the publisher is left with a large, unrecouped advance?</p>
<p>Both parties have good arguments. But while the digital world raises new commercial opportunities, it also poses a number of commercial and legal risks. All parties need to work together to find solutions and ensure that the common interest of effectively exploiting rights is achieved in a fair and reasonable way. In uncertain times such as these, building on existing business relationships is key.</p>
<p>Agents should be wary of new e-distributors and the likes of Google who may have a very different view of their assets, security, accounting or means of exploitation. The old adage &ldquo;it&rsquo;s better the devil you know&rdquo; is more appropriate now than ever.</p>