Mammoth changes

<p>This morning, my young daughter asked me what authors did before computers were invented. When I told her that I had written my first novel with pen and ink, she could not have looked more startled had I shown her a photo of myself with a mammoth. Such is the way, no doubt, in the age of Google and iPads, that a mid-life -crisis will tend to announce itself.</p>
<p>It is vital, however, that all authors remain young at heart. We need to stay alert to the quickening pace of technological change and the potential it has to affect every aspect of our business. A perfect example is provided by the seemingly obscure issue of termination clauses. Time was when this operated in a perfectly transparent way. A publisher would print a given number of copies of a book. An author, once these had all been sold, would request a reprint. If, after a given period of time, no reprint was issued, then back the rights would revert to the author.</p>
<p>Not so nowadays. Printing has become infinitely more sophisticated. New technology enables the profitable re-printing of books in often tiny quantities. It is a simple matter now for publishers to keep a book&mdash;or an e-book&mdash;permanently &quot;in print&quot;, and at minimal cost to themselves.&nbsp;They are hardly to be criticised for wanting to keep their backlists readily available, of course; but at the same time, it is only proper that authors have the opportunity, should they so wish, to revert rights once sales have dwindled, and the publishers are making only a desultory profit. </p>
<p>Many contracts, particularly those negotiated by agents, now specify a sales threshold below which the author may bring the agreement to an end. However, there are also many publishers whose standard contracts do not adequately take account of e-books and print-on-demand. The view of the Society of Authors is that when a work is available only as one or both of these, an author should have the right, after an agreed period of time or once the advance has been earned, to terminate the contract. If sales have been below, say, 200 copies in the preceding 12 months, then this should be on one month's notice. The precise details can be negotiated; but not the essential point of principle. Authors should not be obliged to cede perpetual control of a wide range of rights without having the opportunity to call it a day once sales have declined.</p>
<p>To press this point is not to indulge in a Luddite whinge&mdash;it is merely to demand that changes in publishing bred of technological progress do not steamroller the interest of authors. <br />
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