eBooks publishing model?
January 7, 2011 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Publishing Industry aficionados: How does a copyrighted classic book become an eBook?

I'm trying to understand the path that (for example) The Hobbit would take to becoming an eBook.

More precisely:

1) Who starts the process? Is it the copyright owner looking to make a few extra bucks? The publisher doing bulk deals? The eBook seller tracking down authors and making specific requests?

2) Who are the players? Obviously the author or their estate will be involved as will anyone who has purchased printing rights (but presumably not electronic publishing rights). Is there a clearinghouse in there somewhere -- a company that specializes in licensing and producing eBooks?

3) Is there any impetus to do something with old classics? After all it seems like another reprint might be a more profitable path...

I understand the whole process is currently hobbled by the usual DRM worries, but I would imagine that a basic business model has emerged. Can someone with a window into area this educate me?
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When something is currently in print, the creation of an e-book edition is publisher-originated. Always. This would include The Hobbit.

When something is out of print, the production of an e-book is sometimes initiated by the author or other rights holder, and sometimes initiated by an e-publisher, and sometimes initiated by the publisher with whom it was previously in print.

Then there's Odyssey Editions, about which time will tell; there aren't so many potential high sellers whose e-book rights aren't already assigned, so the revenue model seems off to me.

Another thing that happens is that authors self-publish e-book editions of their out of print backlists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:42 PM on January 7, 2011

I just finished reading an article that explained this (among other e-book–related things).
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 8:00 PM on January 7, 2011

Generally when a book goes out of print the rights revert to the author, who can then re-assign publication rights to another publisher or self-publish. In the age of print-on-demand it remains to be seen what "out of print" will mean; some authors fear that rights will never revert to them since the publisher can always claim it's available via POD (yet not do any kind of marketing or have an in-store presence for the physical book).

There are actually quite a number of potentially-popular books that aren't available as digital editions, sometimes due to contractual confusion (often it's unclear who has the rights), sometimes just because the publisher is still working through their backlist.

In terms of digital-only publishers that produce backlist ebooks, Open Road is fairly innovative. Unlike Wylie/Odyssey they don't have a potential conflict-of-interest by also acting as literary agents.
posted by nev at 8:09 AM on January 8, 2011

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