Original E-Book Publication – A Loophole in Your Publishing Contract?

Publishers Weekly recent carried the news item that St. Martin’s Press was launching its first exclusive e-book title, The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet by William Becker. Obviously it’s a book about the environment and, as the news item pointed out, “releasing the title as an e-book would be the most environmentally-friendly approach.” It sounds like a book everyone should read, and we applaud St. Martin’s initiative for going straight to e-book.

It does however raise a provocative question for authors and agents (and publishing lawyers): is there anything in a conventional book contract that prevents your publisher from releasing your book originally as an e-book? Or, for that matter, exclusively as an e-book as opposed to print on paper? I would guess that the author of the St. Martin’s Press book explicitly waived his right to have his book published first in a hardcover or paperback volume. But what about us garden variety authors? Could a publisher elect to go straight into e-book without our express permission?

Just asking!

I raised the question in a column years ago and raise it again now. It might be worthwhile for author and agent organizations to examine publisher boilerplate and, if I’m right, push to sew up this loophole.

– Richard Curtis


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