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Why Are There More Old Songs On iTunes Than Old eBooks? 77

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
New submitter Paul J Heald writes "The vast majority of books and songs from the 20th Century are out-of-print. New data show music publishers doing an admirable job of digitizing older content, but book publishers fail miserably at putting old works in eBook form. I've done some research in an attempt to explain why: 'Music publishers can proceed with the digitization of their back catalog without competing to re-sign authors or hiring lawyers to renegotiate and write new contracts. Research has revealed no cases holding that music publishers must renegotiate in order to digitize their vinyl back catalogs. The situation for book publishers is substantially the opposite. In the landmark case of Random House v. Rosetta Books, the Second Circuit held that Random House had to renegotiate deals with its authors in order to publish their hard copy books in eBook format. ... Another advantage that the music industry may have is the lower cost of digitization. A vinyl album or audio master tape can be converted directly to a consumable digital form and be made available almost immediately. A book, on the other hand, can be scanned quite easily, but in order to be marketed as a professional-looking eBook (as opposed to a low quality, camera-like image of the original book), the scanned text needs to be manipulated with word processing software to reset the fonts and improve the appearance of the text.'"
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Why Are There More Old Songs On iTunes Than Old eBooks?

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  • Re:Word processing?! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @12:57PM (#46492997)

    I think the first hit is what the OP meant.

    Tax Executives Institute? []

    Hint: Google's search results are personalized. What was the first hit for you might not be the first hit for somebody else.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @08:39PM (#46495721)

    I own a literary agency that has specialized in SF/F for over sixty years. I can speak to these issues authoritatively.

    What the situation is with books printed by publishers is very simple: the publishers do not own the books. Just some rights, under some conditions.

    Typically, an author engages a literary agency to represent their work to publishers. This includes submitting the work to publishers who normally handle that particular genre or otherwise might specifically be interested at the moment; negotiating a contract with the publisher, and finding a balance between getting the work published, while retaining any rights not specifically purchased by the publisher. The publisher in turn relies on the expertise the specific agency has in a particular genre or genres. Most large publishers will not deal directly with an author. Most small publishers give it up after trying it for a while -- it's definitely "its own thing."

    From the author's POV, the agency brings expertise on rights negotiation, knowledge of publishers, knowledge of foreign sales (either directly or through associate agencies), tax issues, and direct access to editors at the publishers they deal with. From the publisher's POV, they don't have deal with authors who have no knowledge of the legal territory, and whom, in most cases, they would never consider publishing anyway.

    The agency also performs triage: the publisher can be assured that the agency felt the work, and the author, was worth representing, and that the work is in a genre the publisher wishes to address, and that takes a huge amount of cruft off the table (look at the self-published stuff on Amazon to see what I mean there. The vast majority of it is truly awful.) It does not guarantee a sale; but it makes it a great deal easier on the publisher, and it does make sales easier for all parties involved.

    So when a deal is struck, what publishers purchase from the agency on behalf of the author is the right to produce a work in a particular format under negotiated conditions. For instance, a hardcover edition. That does not give them the right to produce it as an audiobook, or a softcover, or a movie, or a play, or a radio show, etc., although they may also negotiate those rights -- each contract is specific, and the better the contract, the more specific it is.

    Most such contracts are most explicit in what rights they confer, and under what conditions, and in terms of time. Others go even further and are explicit in what rights they do not confer.

    Another issue here is whether something is in print. Again, the initial contract negotiates what happens when and if the book goes out of print, and what defines that. The rights may revert immediately; they may revert after a period of time; they may not revert at all; they may revert if an additional print run is not done within X period of time, etc. It's all about the contract the publisher accepts.

    The specific rights negotiated, particularly on older titles, will vary by publisher and by agency; the most careful agencies have been reserving electronic reproduction rights since the 1950's. At the time, it was a "so what" issue to the publishers. Today, it isn't.

    So in many cases, unless the copyright for a book has expired completely, the author controls the e-book rights through the agency representing the author. In others, if those rights were not reserved, the publisher has control (this should be relatively uncommon.) If copyright has expired completely, then the works are in the public's hands.

    What with the recent changes in copyright law in favor of longer copyright terms, a huge amount of what we think of as modern works are still under control of whatever contracts are extant, or the rights have reverted to the author, the author's estate, or the author's representative (typically a literary agency.)

    When e-books hit the market, there was a great upset in the publishing industry, and they suddenly became extremely conservative on several front

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