Will authors keep their e-books alive?

Disclaimer: I am not an author and have only a generalized sense of what is involved in regaining the rights to one’s work. 

I keep, at Amazon, lists of books I care about. I plumb these lists for Steals and Deals, use them as resources for recommendations and for blogs. Currently, I am keeping track of almost 2000 ebooks and lately, they’ve been vanishing. Books that were available as ebooks suddenly are no longer for sale.

This has happened to several of my favorites: Shannon McKenna’s Extreme Danger (There’s good news here–she is republishing this and others in the McCloud series on her own this year.), to Madeline Hunter’s all five fabulous medievals including By Arrangement, By Design, and Lord of A Thousand Nights, to Sarah Mayberry’s Suddenly You and She’s Got It Bad, and to several of Theresa Romain’s books including Fortune Favors the Wicked, just to name a few.

It upsets me when an ebook is no longer available–it means I can’t recommend that book to a vast swath of our readers–all those who read exclusively on their devices. I’ve spoken to several authors about their efforts to regain the rights to their ebooks–and, believe me, effort is the right word. It’s often expensive and time consuming so I can see that some authors may take Carrie Lofty’s route and simply quit publishing their works. (It still breaks my heart that His Very Own Girl is no longer available in any format.)

Has this happened to you? Have you had a hard time finding ebook version of older books you love? And, to the authors out there, how are you managing your ebook rights?

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Barbara Rhodes
Barbara Rhodes
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05/14/2022 8:36 pm

I have a few of theses books in my elibrary, that is items I have bought from Amazon over the last 12 years. I understood I was purchasing limited rights to the books.

Just checked and was able to download By Arrangement and Unbound to my kindle. I know that some books have gone, so will read these two asap, while I can.

DiscoDollyDeb
DiscoDollyDeb
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Reply to  Dabney Grinnan
05/15/2022 11:23 am

I just checked and I still have UNBOUND on my kindle. I’m guessing that if you downloaded a book to a device, it’s on that device; but if, like many of us, you’ve upgraded your e-reader over the years and did not download your entire library from the previous device, you may not be able to retrieve the book if it’s no longer available through the vendor. Just a surmise, but it seems plausible.

CaroLinden
CaroLinden
05/12/2022 11:33 am

Digital rights weren’t really much of a thing until about 15, 16 years ago. It’s entirely possible the old contracts don’t give the publishers explicit right to publish an ebook, but do give them enough leverage to prevent the author from publishing ebooks of the same title.

If a publisher owns the rights to a deep backlist book, it is not anywhere near the top of their priorities to get that book out in new formats, unless the author has really taken off in the meantime. It would cost them time and money to find that old file, re-format it, proof it, load it, etc. I think sometimes there are issues with older cover copyrights as well not extending to ebooks.

If an author gets the rights back, all that work lands on the author, of fixing up old files and getting new covers and re-writing cover copy (because the copyright in that generally belongs to the publisher), and then loading them to retailers. It’s a lot of effort. You have to stay on top of it, or hire someone else to do it.

And the last reason I can think of for ebooks getting pulled is that they are ancient formats and need updating, or else readers are reporting errors with the files. For a while it was a thing for readers to report “errors” which were “typos” in books, and Amazon would yank the book until the author fixed the “error.” I can see that affecting older books, especially books that got converted to digital via scanning printed pages. Amazon is the WORST at just pulling books down and making it hard to get them back up, at least for indie authors. If a book just disappears from your Kindle, there’s a decent chance it was Amazon’s doing and not the author/publisher’s.

Caz Owens
Caz Owens
Editor
Reply to  CaroLinden
05/12/2022 1:41 pm

Speaking as someone who used to work in publishing that involved both “mechanical” (i.e “physical copies”) and digital rights, that all makes a huge amount of sense. I can imagine it’s a massive undertaking for authors to self-publish their back catalogues, especially if they’ve been off the scene for a while; there’s so much involved technically as well as everything else and it must require a big investment of both time and money.

It can be very complicated which is, I suppose, one reason this isn’t widely understood among readers; I see so many posts and comments complaining about an author not making this or that available with no understanding that in many cases, it’s nothing to do with them, and that in others, it’s simply not viable for them.

CaroLinden
CaroLinden
Reply to  Caz Owens
05/16/2022 6:10 pm

If you’re ever wondering why X old book isn’t available, nine times out of ten the publisher is at fault somehow. Most authors want their books to be available. I guess sometimes an author decides an old book is too dated to be acceptable today, but usually we want to get them out there.

Lieselotte
Lieselotte
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05/12/2022 10:00 am

I did not realize this COULD even happen.
I thought once on kindle, forever there.

So, a couple of years back, I was so disappointed when all of Roberta Gellis disappeared for a while – it is on amazon right now, most of it. She is a reread and a comfort read, so important to have her on hand – so I rebought them all as ebooks.

Edith Layton is all on kindle currently except her two American books, again, I bought them all (though some covers are awful imo).

I just checked: Carla Kelly seems to be also much reduced….

I find this scary, honestly – it makes me anxious and I thought this feeling of dread was over once we had the option of ebook and not only print – I just cannot keep all books I might want to re-read one day…

Does anyone know if there are platforms that books stay on even if not on amazon?So they can be found – just with more effort?

Caz Owens
Caz Owens
Editor
Reply to  Lieselotte
05/12/2022 1:43 pm

Unfortunately not. Well, not anything legal anyway. Other than getting hold of second hand physical copies, there isn’t any way I know of to obtain a copy of an ebook that is “out of print”.

As someone here has said, it would be great if there were a company that actually focused on doing just that – acquiring rights and re-publishing titles, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a particularly attractive business model.

Last edited 1 year ago by Caz Owens
Lieselotte
Lieselotte
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Reply to  Dabney Grinnan
05/12/2022 3:04 pm

Yes!
Once I have it, it stays :-)

Elaine S
Elaine S
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Reply to  Lieselotte
05/13/2022 5:02 am

An Edith Layton fan!! Lovely! Me too but all of mine, thankfully, are tattered, used paperbacks purchased here and there over many years.

Last edited 1 year ago by elaine smith
willaful
willaful
Guest
05/11/2022 3:22 pm

It’s very distressing. I spent quite awhile trying to find a copy of Unbound by Cara McKenna, only to finally realize it had never been available in print and, other than the audiobook, is just… gone.

Mary Beth
Mary Beth
Guest
05/11/2022 11:55 am

I have never thought about this problem. How enormously frustrating it would be to not have books available that were formerly ebooks. I was a very early adapter to the kindle because of how well it fit my reading needs. I’m 73 years old now and the lighted pages and adjustable font are great! Through the years I have somehow managed to create a library of close to 9000 books. While I can find this a little embarrassing at times, I am now rejoicing. All the titles you listed are safely tucked away on my kindle.

DiscoDollyDeb
DiscoDollyDeb
Guest
05/11/2022 6:25 am

This just happened to me yesterday: I was reading a book in a loosely-connected, long-running series and I came across a reference to another couple whose backstory seemed really interesting. But when I went to look for the book, I found the dreaded “No longer available in ebook format” message. What appears to be so simple from the outside–upload the book’s file, make sure the formatting isn’t wonky, and allow it to be purchased from ebook vendors–is actually a fraught journey through legal red tape, rights issues, and vendors (specifically, Amazon) demanded ever-increasingly large slices of the pie. I can understand why some authors just throw up their hands in frustration and give up.

Caz Owens
Caz Owens
Editor
Reply to  Dabney Grinnan
05/12/2022 4:38 am

I think that Untreed Reads/Regency Reads was set up to publish lots of old Signet and Fawcet Regencies, but it would be great if there was one big organisation devoted to getting e-publishing rights and putting the books back out there.

Carrie G
Carrie G
Guest
Reply to  DiscoDollyDeb
05/12/2022 6:54 pm

If a book in in your Kindle Library, but not actually on your Kindle, can they remove it? I know with audio titles Audible (owned by Amazon) leaves the discontinued file in your account. Just curious if it’s different. I share my kindle account with my husband and at least one child, so I’m not sure I’d notice of books went missing unless it was one of the few I reread often.

Carrie G
Carrie G
Guest
Reply to  Dabney Grinnan
05/13/2022 4:06 pm

Thanks, Dabney. I was hoping it would be the same way as Audible. On Audible I have at least 5 or 6 audiobooks, most of them by Georgette Heyer, they are no longer available to buy, but I can still listen to my copies.

Caz Owens
Caz Owens
Editor
05/11/2022 1:26 am

I think Theresa Romain is self-publishing a number of her books now she’s got the right back so hopefully they will reappear soon.

You’re right about the effort involved though – KJ Charles has made no secret of the fact that a number of her books are ridiculously tied up and the publisher refuses to do anything with them (like issue paperbacks, 0r allow her to do so.)

And then there’s those authors whose books readers would LOVE to be able to buy, but who seem to have just disappeared. I’ve seen many a reader bemoaning the fact that books 1-5 in the Cut and Run series – in many ways, a seminal m/m romantic suspense series – are no longer available, which I imagine is all down to publishing rights – but the author is just not around (or so it seems) to ask if she has any plans to republish. I think it’s the not knowing which can be the most frustrating thing for readers.