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Eight-Tracks, Rotary Phones…and Printed Books?

Kobo Glo and Mini

Kobo Glo and Mini

The big five publishing houses are being pretty tight-lipped on the subject, so maybe agents do have a reason to be concerned: according to Publisher’s Weekly, authors can no longer assume that signing a standard publishing contract will guarantee a print format edition of their book.

In the past, a print version was considered standard, but agents are finding that more and more frequently publishers are refusing to commit to publishing a title in paperback, much less hardcover.

Agents said they “feared that if vague language about format begins to crop up on a regular basis, they will need to start advocating for a format they were universally guaranteed in the past.”

The article speculates that such a shift would hurt midlist authors and those below—especially first-time authors and those without consistently strong sales records. Agents fear a new business standard would mean less money for both themselves and their clients and allow publishers to use an e-book only release as a way to “dump” those books they’re less excited about.

Which is bad news not only for authors and their representation, but brick-and-mortar bookstores as well.

Despite their dismay, agents and other insiders who spoke to PW said they were not necessarily surprised by the move, given the current marketplace. There is growing pressure on publishers to release books quickly, and to do so in the formats that will bring in the most revenue. Because so many book deals are made well in advance of the titles’ release dates, publishers have always had to gauge the future relevancy of topics and authors. Now publishers also have to attempt to anticipate the future bricks-and-mortar landscape when signing contracts. As some insiders explained, it’s a very different situation when the question goes from, “How many copies will Barnes & Noble take?” to “Will Barnes & Noble be around?”

To read the full article, click here.

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