Are print-on-demand books considered print-on-paper or electronic editions?

Q. Are print-on-demand books considered print-on-paper or electronic editions?

A. They are generally considered print-on-paper (“POP”) books, but there are arguments on both sides.

Favoring their treatment as electronic editions: until the time of actual purchase, they exist only as an electronic file and not as a printed book.

Favoring their treatment as print-on-paper editions: the purchaser receives a print-on-paper book, not a file to be read on a computer or other e-device.

To avoid possible future disagreements between you and your publisher, your contract should specify how you and the publisher intend print-on-demand (“POD”) books to be treated. If the two of you agree, they can even be treated differently in different sections of the agreement.

Clauses affected by this decision primarily include grant of rights, royalties, out of print and reversion of rights. If your contract includes — as it should — provisions for separately determining when your e-edition and print-on-paper editions go out of print, you need to avoid confusion about what rights revert to you.

A reversion of POP rights to you will be illusory — and you will not find a traditional publisher interested in bringing out a new edition — if your original publisher, retaining the e-rights after your POP edition goes out of print, can cause a POD edition to be printed whenever someone wants to buy a traditional book. So even if your contract treats PODs as electronic editions for royalty or out-of-print purposes, specify that they are treated as POP copies for grant of rights purposes if POP rights revert to you when the POP edition goes out of print.

(Originally published in the Fall 2011/Winter 2012 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. © Mark L. Levine)

Answers to questions on this site are general in nature only. You should consult a lawyer for information about a particular situation. For more information about book publishing contracts and issues, see Levine’s book.