Can You Sell Print-Only Rights to a Major Publisher? Someone Just Did

At the dawn of the e-book revolution I made a prediction that publishers found so horrifying that one editor told me it made him sick to his stomach.

The prediction was that one day an important author would make a print-only deal with a publisher, and retain the e-book rights. “But that relegates our publishing company to a mere printer!” wailed my friend.

Yes, that’s just what it does, and I wonder if his tummy got queasy when he learned that my prophecy has come to pass. For it was recently reported in Indie Bookspot that author Bella Andre has made exactly such a deal with Mira, a division of Harlequin. And Harlequin will pay seven figures for the privilege.

Andre is creator of “The Sullivans”, which she self-published as e-books. She retains those rights to the first eight books, leaving Mira to do them in paper-only starting next year.

Over the years we’ve reported on authors who’ve been captured by publishers after hitting it big with self-published digital originals. But in those cases the publishers insisted that e-rights be included with print. In fact it is a shibboleth of the book industry that no book will be acquired unless e-rights are part and parcel of the deal.

Part of the resistance is economic common sense: unless you think you can sell a ton of printed books, it’s just not worth while letting an author reap the e-book harvest without sharing it with you.  But there’s a bigger principle at play here: pride. As my friend pointed out, print-only deals marginalize publishers to the status of printers and set a precedent that has Doomsday written all over it.

Obviously Andre is big enough to make Harlequin confident that it can sell a ton of print copies without digital rights. Will other publishers follow Mira’s lead? Maybe, but they’ll do it throwing up every step of the way.

Details in Harlequin MIRA signs up Bella Andre’s Sullivans series

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as E-Tail Wags P-Dog

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