Monday, June 18, 2007

Those darn academic publishers!

So, I'm asked -- nay, begged -- to contribute something to an academic collection about science fiction, and I offer up a really fine essay, if I do say so myself. Of course, there's no payment for use, even though they intend to sell the book at a high price. And here's the license they want for the work:
Each contributor retains the copyright to their contribution to the manuscript and may use it without permission for any purpose except publishing or selling the work. If you need to publish your contribution as part of a different publication, you may do so, granted that you obtain permission from us; we do not normally charge for any such permissions. We will hold the publishing rights.

So, um, exactly what value is retainig the copyright if I don't have the right to publish or sell the work without their permission? And, gee, thanks, on letting me use it for any other purpose -- but what, pray tell, might one do with an essay besides publish it or sell it?

Still, at least they're not out-and-out demanding a transfer of copyright. I've countered by offering the editor this: "You, and your publisher, may have an unlimited, in-perpetuity, non-exclusive, worldwide license to publish my essay in all languages in conjunction with your book." But the last time I dealt with one of these academic publishers they said that wasn't good enough, and so I dropped out. We'll see what happens this time ...

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At June 19, 2007 4:33 PM , Blogger Stephen_K said...

Hey, we're not ALL bad :)

UTP's contributor contract asks simply that if you plan to reuse the essay elsewhere you give "proper credit to the original publication by the Press." This usually means that footnote/endnote #1 indicates the essay first appeared in TITLE from UTP. We don't even ask for a exclusivity period.

As for the lousy pay despite a high price...well, that's pretty standard unfortunately.

The majority of our authors are academics who are using scholarly publishing credits to advance their careers (tenure, research chairs, etc.) That's the round-about way they make money from their books. Nobody, even the volume editor, is getting rich on the book.

The high price is due mainly to shrinking library sales (most university libraries are spending their money on electronic journals and not books). And given that libraries are the primary market for scholarly books...

Sadly academic publishing tends to be pretty low-margin, even for bigger publishers. You see a lot of arts & humanities presses starting to do law and business textbooks as a revenue source.

While there will always be the need for the gatekeeper function of academic publishers (to ensure quality, peer review, etc.) I personally wouldn't be surprised to see scholarly presses stop producing "books"--the paper artifact--and become a kind of e-content provider in the not-too-distant future.

But then again, maybe that's they way the whole publishing biz will eventually go.

Anyway, just my $0.02.


- S.

At June 28, 2007 3:47 AM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

Stephen, I actually take exception to the "proper credit to the original publication by the Press" clause. That puts an onus on the author, when all responsibilities at that point should be on the press.

It is an erosion of the author's rights to make him or her beholden to the press for the rest of his life when the press did not help him or her write that essay. It belongs to the author. It was only borrowed, and borrowed once, by the publishing company.

And as someone who works in publishing and who is involved in author-publisher contracts, if I'm coming down on the side of the author here, it's because I see the bigger picture of fairness.

Maybe such a clause is considered acceptable in academic publishing, but I'd never use it at a literary press. We are idealists, after all. :)

And I think Rob's point about the money is that he's being asked to give up a lot of rights without a lot of compensation. If they don't want to offer extraordinary compensation, they shouldn't ask for extraordinary rights, no matter what their financial straits are.

At July 14, 2007 8:01 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Well, the academic publisher came around to seeing things my way. :) So, my contribution will be chapter one in the book; I'll say more about the book closer to pub date.


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