Q. My publisher is remaindering the trade paperback edition of my book but intends to keep the hardcover edition in print until all of its hardcover copies are sold. It is offering to sell me copies of the remaindered paperback (which retails for $35; the hardcover retails for $50) at $7/copy. My contract doesn’t cover the situation. Is the price offered a reasonable one?
A. Although all contracts contain provisions giving authors the right to purchase copies when the book goes out of print (and generally specify a method for determining the purchase price), few specify what happens when the publisher has published different editions of the book but is remaindering only one.
I suggest you ask the publisher what price it plans to sell the remainder copies for (these are generally bought in bulk by a company specializing in remainders) and offer to purchase your copies at the same price. You can also ask what it cost the publisher to print each copy of the paperback; these should be paper, printing and binding costs (“PPB”) only, and exclude typesetting and similar one-time costs that would have been incurred regardless of the number of copies printed. Unless the person buying the remainders is paying a higher price, the price you pay for each copy should not exceed that PPB and, in fact, should be less. Because of basic set-up costs involved in printing and binding a book, most of the cost of printing a book is incurred whether a publisher prints 1,000 copies or 10,000 copies at the same time. Thus the cost per book for printing these later, additional copies (the “run-on cost”) is generally significantly lower than the cost per book for printing the initial thousands of copies in the print run, as well as lower than the average cost per book of the entire print run. Since 50% of PPB or the price offered by others wanting to buy the remainders is often the price specified in publishing contracts for authors to buy copies when a book goes out of print, it is likely that most publishers would agree to this method in determining what you should pay for copies of your book in the situation you describe.
Additionally, given the markups that publishers typically use in pricing their books, I’d wager that the PPB for your book was probably close to half the $7 your publisher is asking, if not less.
In future contracts, consider adding a sentence along these lines to the section of the contract dealing with your right to buy copies when all editions are out of print:
“When Publisher has more than one edition of the Work in print, the provisions of this Agreement concerning Author’s right to buy copies of the Work when the Work is out of print (including the price at which Author may buy unsold copies) shall apply also to separate editions of the Work published by Publisher which Publisher declares out of print or remainders.”
(Originally published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. © Mark L. Levine)
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