Friday, May 27, 2011

Bloomsbury Reader Is Digitally Refreshing

The easiest way to deal with orphan works is to adopt them digitally, but do so legitimately. This should not be achieved via the back door and by ‘snatching’ them off the street, but by establishing the owner, or agent and working with them to give them a second digital life. Forget what the pro Google Book Settlement advocates have long claimed, there is life in many of these works and there are lots of them out there worth adopting and that’s why Google wanted them so badly..

We have seen literary agents start to consider their back list and make bold steps to publish them. We have seen academic publishers, such as CUP and Taylor and Francis, build a significant business by keeping titles in print using on demand services. We have seen previously published authors dust down long overlooked titles and self publish them. We have seen the likes of Barnes and Noble launch Pubit and Amazon open its doors wide to publishing. We have seen Jane Friedman secure additional funding for her growing ‘Open Road‘ venture.

Now publishers are starting to waken up and realise that there is a wealth of material out there waiting to be rediscovered and adopted.

Bloomsbury has now joined forces with the Rights House to establish a new venture ‘Bloomsbury Reader’ that will publish digital versions of out-of-print titles and the service will not be exclusive but open to other literary services. Initially some 500 out-of-print titles from authors such as, Alan Clark , Roy Jenkins, Bernice Rubens, Edith Sitwell, Monica Dickens, VS Pritchett will be made available as ebooks and on print on demand.

Bloomsbury Reader is clearly aimed at addressing both that huge treasure trove of forgotten works that have long been forgotten in the trade’s obsession with its ‘grail’ quest to find that new bestseller and focus on cluster bombing front list titles onto the market. Bloomsbury have taken a logical step to work with those people who know what they have, what has been forgotten and what sold, the literary agent.

Ask any publisher what rights they are merely sitting on and are locked away in a cupboard and why these aren’t digital today and the answer will probably be somewhat muffled and the eyes adverted. We have long believed that these works should be made available and this initiative is tackling reverted rights works and those where the ownership is well established. We hope others will follow and trade publishers will unlock those rights that they are merely sitting on and give them a fresh digital start. However, publishing is not just about throwing books out into the market it is about refreshing them and promoting and distributing and the Bloomsbury Reader initiative has recognised this and built these steps into their programme. No doubt the titles will now also be built into the growing Bloomsbury Library Online service and be available to millions of library patrons.

It’s ironic that at a time when the Google Book Settlement looks thankfully lost, the trade is now starting to look hard at the orphan works and by adopting these forgotten heroes they are in fact addressing some of the issues that legislation and the Google settlement failed to come close to resolving.

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