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Amazon to Bid on Dorchester Assets

auction Just when you think you’ve learned the latest news about Amazon acquiring another company, something new will pop up on-line. In June, we learned that Amazon was acquiring Avalon Books, a “clean” publisher that mostly sells to libraries. The latest news is that Amazon is bidding on the assets of Dorchester Publishing. By assets, this means books. Lots and lots of books. The Digital Book World post includes this wording from Amazon:

“All publication contacts regarding certain literary works (collectively, the Works) and related outbound license agreements of DP (collectively, the Contracts), subject to the purchaser negotiating certain amendments with the authors of the Works in exchange for payment by Amazon Publishing of the full amount of back royalties that DP indicates is owed to those authors as of May 31, 2012…”

Let’s hope Dorchester’s back royalty statements are accurate as those have been a matter of controversy for years. In August of 2010 (yes, it has been almost two years since the last Dorchester mass market titles came out), Dorchester tried to cope with money problems by moving to a digital- and trade-only business model. However, while some authors decided to stay with them, many of their most popular authors (such as horror author Brian Keene) negotiated to get their rights back. Many authors also ended up in disputes with Dorchester when Dorchester started selling eBook editions of their books without permission, and Brian Keene called for a boycott of Dorchester.

Dorchester’s promised trade paperback editions didn’t seem to make a huge impact on Most experts predicted that Dorchester would soon declare bankruptcy. Dorchester laid off most of its staff, including editorial staff. They also closed their physical offices in March, as reported by Romantic Times and in Brian Keene’s blog. Dorchester apparently told authors not to worry, they weren’t closing, just becoming a “virtual business.” That didn’t stop authors worrying about their future.

The expected declaration of bankruptcy did not occur. However, for readers, Dorchester is no longer there. Dorchester hasn’t published any books since February, except a couple of reprints in June. The company also shut down their own blog in February, as well as their forum, and their site no longer lists new titles. The company is deader than a zombie from their horror line. Many of their authors have felt the same about the company — the editors they had worked with were gone, royalty statements weren’t coming in, and money wasn’t going to the authors.

Amazon is just one of the bidders on the Dorchester assets, but many seem to think think they will win the bid. According to the details, if Amazon wins, it will pay royalties owed to authors. That could be come to a lot of money. According to the PW article, many authors were owed $10,000 to $50,000 in unpaid royalties. I’ve seen similar posts by authors, so I’m not surprised by the numbers.

Amazon will also acquire almost 2,000 titles — mostly romances, westerns, thrillers, and horror. If this goes through, this will be a huge acquisition for Amazon. These are popular genres on their site, and many of their authors have a following.

Brian Keene is one of the most famous examples, and he has made no secret of his disputes with Dorchester. He got especially upset when Dorchester started publishing eBook editions of his books without permission.

Like Keene, other authors got their rights back and found other publishers or self-published, but kept fighting Dorchester when their eBooks kept showing up on Amazon. For example, many readers might know that Dara Joy is now selling eBook editions of her backlist, including Knight of a Trillion Stars. What you might not have noticed is that the same titles are available as eBooks from Dorchester. That’s not a good sign. Who has the digital rights to those titles? This is a legal tangle, and adding a possible Amazon acquisition to the mix will make it thorny as well. Let’s hope it can get straightened out and that authors really do get the money they are owed — something many of them had given up on.

In a statement on the PW site, Amazon’s spokesperson said that the Dorchester authors would be given options. “We want all authors to be happy being a part of the Amazon Publishing family going forward and we have structured our bid so that we will only take on authors who want to join us. As part of this philosophy, if we win the bid, Dorchester has committed to revert all titles that are not assigned to us.”

The sale is still not without controversy — lots of controversy. Are the authors going to be screwed again? Author Brian Keene acquired his right back from Dorchester and started self-publishing, but then he noticed that Dorchester was still publishing eBook editions of his books. Often, they were publishing them at discounted prices, undermining his own efforts. Who’s going to pay, say, five dollars for a Brian Keene eBook when you can buy one for $2.99? According to Keene, when Dorchester put their assets on the market in March, they were attempting to auction off titles to which they no longer had the rights.

As a reader, all I can do is buy the books I want when I see them, hope I’m buying them from the company with the rights to publish them, and hope that they are paying the authors the royalties that they are due. Many of the authors who left Dorchester said that they did much better self-publishing their own books on Amazon. If the deal goes through, there’s no way of predicting if this will continue once Amazon starts selling the Dorchester backlist . Will those backlist titles published through Amazon compete with the self-published titles? Will Amazon start selling new books by those authors, just to add to the confusion? And of course, one downfall of the acquisition is that it leaves Nook, Sony, and Kobo owners, who may want to read the Dorchester backlist, in the dust.

– Anne Marble

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