When Open Road Media published an ebook edition of Jean Craighead George’s 1973 Newbery Award–winning Julie of the Wolves in 2011, it was business as usual for the company, which had secured rights from George prior to her death in 2012. But HarperCollins sued Open Road in 2011, saying that its 1971 contract superseded Open Road’s and gave it the exclusive right to license the ebook. On March 14, Publishers Lunch reported that Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald had ruled in favor of Harper.
In her decision, Judge Buchwald distinguished between the wording in the current suit and one in 2001 by Random House against Rosetta Books, which found for ebook publisher Rosetta and has since enabled authors to make independent deals for their ebook rights. She wrote that in George’s contract with Harper, “the governing grant conveys the right to ‘publish…in book form…’ whereas in Rosetta Books, the grant was one ‘to print, publish and sell….’ As was explicitly argued in the earlier case, the inclusion of the word ‘print’ has a limiting effect and a strong connotation of paper copy…. The word ‘print’ is absent from the 1971 contract governing [Julie of the Wolves].”
The ruling, Buchwald wrote, also hinged on Paragraph 20 in George’s contract with Harper, which gave the publisher “use thereof [of Julie of the Wolves] in storage and retrieval and information systems, and/or whether through computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented….”
Easing fears that the ruling would have broad implications limiting authors’ granting of ebook rights, Buchwald pointed out that “this problem is largely historical in scope….Consequently, it is possible that our holding, dependent as it is on antiquated language, may be of limited applicability.”
In more positive Open Road news, the company announced on March 24 that Ira Silverberg will join the firm on April 22 as strategic advisor, author brands, reporting to publisher Tina Pohlman. Silverberg was previously editor in chief at Grove Press, cofounder/publisher of High Risk Books, owner of a public relations firm for independent presses and not-for-profit literary institutions, and literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Crime-Driven Syndicate Books Launches, Soho To Distribute
In February, Paul Oliver, director of marketing and publicity for Soho Press, announced he’d soon launch his own company, Syndicate Books, to bring back forgotten, influential crime/thriller titles, some never before published in the United States, both digitally and in print. Oliver’s been working on it since before joining Soho in 2012—and will continue in his job at Soho.
A former bookstore owner, Oliver became familiar with a lot of rare, out-of-print titles. That’s how he encountered Ted Lewis, a long-forgotten UK author famous for Get Carter (1970; originally titled Jack’s Return Home), made into a film starring Michael Caine in 1971. (For more on the forthcoming Carter titles, see Kristi Chadwick’s mystery preview, p. 22.) Lewis’s books, said Oliver, “were my dream estate,” and he went after the rights. “They exemplify the projects I want to work on,” he told LJ, “legitimate books that are lost but have a recognizable aspect.”
Get Carter ranked 16th on the British Film Institute’s Best Films of the 20th Century and number seven on The Guardian’s list of Best Crime Film of All Time. Author Dennis Lehane called the book a classic.
Oliver reported in March that Soho Press would distribute select Syndicate titles under the imprint Soho Syndicate through its relationship with Random House Publishers Services. The agreement, said Oliver, “gives Syndicate the flexibility to do both print and ebooks faster.” He confirmed, however, that Syndicate ebook sales to libraries would not be at multiple of the list price (as many Random House titles are), although the terms will provide an unlimited license, like Random’s.
Beyond the three Lewis titles scheduled for release as ebooks this fall, Soho Crime has licensed Lewis’s final novel, GBH [grievous bodily harm], from Oliver. It will be published in hardcover in spring 2015. It was published in 1980 in the UK as a paperback original but has never appeared in the this country. “It’s a masterpiece of suspense—and more of a thriller,” said Oliver.