Filed under: Publishing.
Doranna contends that the book is out of print, and so the rights should be reverted to her. Fitzhenry & Whiteside says, no, in fact the book is in print, and so the reversion clause doesn’t pertain.
Who’s right? There’s no question: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
Fitzhenry & Whiteside isn’t just a publisher, it’s also one of Canada’s largest book distributors (they used to distribute Ace Science Fiction, and they do distribute EDGE, Canada’s largest SF line). A quick call to Bakka-Phoenix, Canada’s oldest SF specialty store, revealed that Dun Lady’s Jess is indeed available via the distributor Fitzhenry & Whiteside to any bookseller that wants it; the title is listed in the distributor’s catalog.
The contract language in question is this: “in print through normal trade channels.” Doranna’s own blog post makes it clear that the book is certainly in print — there are 1,600 physical copies available for shipment (and, checking, I find that they are traditional web-offset copies from the first and only printing — not print-on-demand or ebook editons; the book is in-print not just in some nebulous new-paradigm sense, but in the classic, normal, traditional sense of the term).
As for “normal trade channels,” Fitzhenry & Whiteside is a Canadian publisher. What constitutes “normal trade channels” in Canada?
Well, how ’bout via Chapters.Indigo.ca, Canada’s largest bookstore chain? Dun Lady’s Jess is available for purchase there: Chapters.Indigo.ca
Or maybe you prefer to shop at McNally Robinson, Canada’s major indepedent? They’ll sell you a copy, too: McNallyRobinson.com
Or Amazon.ca? They show the book as In Stock — that is, it’s in their own warehouse, not just the publisher’s: amazon.ca
Or perhaps you want to pick it up in a physical brick-and-mortar bookstore? It’s in stock and on the shelf at World’s Biggest Bookstore (the Chapters/Indigo store in downtown Toronto) (verifiable via the “Find It In Store” feature at the Chapters.Indigo.ca link above).
Oh! And the book is also in stock and on the shelf at Sentry Box in Calgary, a bricks-and-mortar science-fiction and fantasy bookstore.
On October 21, 2011, bookseller Andrew S. Balfour added this comment: I work for one of the booksellers on Rob’s list up there. I can say, with absolute certainty, that this book is just as available as any other in-print book. The fact that it’s not on our shelves has nothing to do with availability, and everything to do with the fact that, when we did stock the book, it didn’t sell.There certainly are such things as reversion-of-rights clauses that require the publisher to meet a threshold number of actual physical copies sold or a threshold number of dollars earned to keep a book in print. But this contract doesn’t have any such language. The book is in print — copies exist — and it is available through “normal trade channels” in the country in which it was published.
That says nothing about the publisher, any more than it says anything about the quality of the book. They can’t force us to order something we don’t want, and no one can control the interests of the reading public.
In conclusion: Not selling ≠ Not available
ETA: Okay, so what’s all the online bouhaha about? Well, the book is clearly in print, but Doranna wanted the publisher to revert the rights anyway. Fitzhenry’s response was not an uncooperative “sure, you can force it out of print — by buying up all the existing copies at your normal author discount [typically 40% off cover price].” No, they went the extra mile for Doranna and said if she really wanted to force this title out of print, she could buy the existing copies at cost. [Source: direct quote from Fitzhenry's Richard Dionne as posted by Doranna herself in her timeline of events; Richard is publisher of Red Deer Press, the division of Fitzhenry & Whiteside that produced Doranna's book.]
Dun Lady’s Jess has a Canadian list price of Cdn$21.95; 40% off that would be Cdn$13.75 a copy; that’s what Doranna’s contract said she should have paid if she wanted to buy copies. But even though the book wasn’t out of print, Fitzhenry offered her a chance to buy the books at cost. I’ve bought books at cost from Fitzhenry myself — trade paperbacks similar to the one in question; cost, in my case, ranged from $1.66 to $3.19 a copy, depending on the title.
There’s no contractual reason in Doranna’s case that Fitz should offer copies at such a low price, but they did. That was more than fair, since an “at cost” sale means the publisher makes not one cent in profit — Fitzhenry bent over backward to let the author accomplish what she wanted to accomplish, namely forcing this clearly in-print title out of print.
For those unfamiliar with Fitzhenry & Whiteside, this is a publisher that has published Pierre Berton, Alice Munro, Northrop Frye, Charlotte Gray, and David Suzuki — some of the top names in Canadian writing.
This is a publisher whose books have won multiple Governor-General’s Awards, Canada’s top literary prize.
This is a publisher whose Fifth House division was recently named Alberta Publisher of the Year by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.
This is a publisher that, over forty years in the business, has published many hundreds of titles to critical acclaim and commercial success.
This is not a publisher that abuses authors.
Note: there’s a lengthy comment thread attached to this blog post, with comments by Doranna Durgin, her agent Lucienne Diver, Victoria Strauss of the Writer Beware blog that Doranna originally posted in, booksellers, and others — and replies from me, covering a lot of ground about the business of publishing and distributing books. Click HERE to read the comments.