Publisher misses out on e-book rights

A novel by U.S. author William Styron.


Tess Vigeland: A dead author is making a big splash in the publishing industry. William Styron wrote towering works of literature -- "Sophie's Choice" among them. Styron died four years ago. His work is about to be published as electronic books. But the author's long-time publisher will not be collecting the profits.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler explains.

JEFF TYLER: Random House has published William Styron's books for decades. But the rights to those same books in digital form went to a new company called "Open Road."

Peter Hildick-Smith is president of Codex Group, which does market analysis for book publishers. He says the move is bad for Random House, since e-books are expected to fuel growth in the industry.

PETER Hildick-Smith: Not being able to hold on to the e-books rights for a major author like that becomes problematic because, if that's where the growth is coming from, you sort of get disenfranchised from that whole distribution channel.

But Random House isn't throwing in the towel.

Spokesman Stuart Applebaum says the Styron case is unique. As a general policy, he says...

STUART Applebaum: Our publishing agreements grant us the right to publish our author's works in all text-paste versions of the work, including electronic publication formats.

Popular older books are important for publishers like Random House. They bring in revenue without requiring a big marketing budget.

At the same time, Applebaum says authors will sell more books -- digital or otherwise -- by sticking with a giant like Random House.

Applebaum: We have the resources and capital to maximize their sales.

Styron's family will get a bigger share of revenue from digital books sold on Open Road -- about twice what Random House paid.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.


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