The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has a new report out on Acquiring Copyright Permissions to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books. Among the findings: orphan works are a problem. Locating and dealing with publishers is daunting. If a book includes materials for which the publisher had to acquire rights (say, to quote a poem) they don’t feel they have the right to include the book in an open access project. And now that “out of print” doesn’t mean what it used to mean, publishers can hang onto rights for as long as they can print on demand – so even if the copyright holder is willing, the publisher may not be. Ever.
This reminds me that during the e-book boom around 2000 I asked a representative from NetLibrary what the biggest challenge was. He said it was winning over publishers – it took far more time and effort than anything else. That boom, of course, went bust largely because everyone in the industry was trying to figure out how to make money by cutting someone else out of the picture. In an article I wrote about it I quoted a New York Times book critic who asked a key question: “What’s in it for the reader?”
I think the industry needs to ask that question again if they want to be in business.