Note: this post has been triggered by a blog entry by one Joe Konrath and the question:
What happens to our IPs when we die?
I have dozens of self-published books, and I’ve spent years learning how to maximize revenue on these titles. There’s more to self-publishing than simply pressing “publish.” and there’s a lot to know about this business in order to succeed.
Which made me realize something important; my heirs aren’t the ones best suited to run my literary empire after I die.
The full article can be found here and the Passive Voice also had some interesting points. Obviously most of what’s there relates to the USA and the law relating to inheritance and will be different in every country but the core question is interesting for any writer anywhere.
Okay let us go to back to ancient times – say ten to twenty years ago – if a writer got a publishing contract their book would be printed, it would hit the shelves and hopefully sell. If the market seemed to warrant it, there would be reprints but with the exception of the odd classic, sooner or later a book would drop out of print. At that point the only examples that would remain in circulation would be a diminishing number of second hand copies – which would have no direct financial advantage to the author. Eventually all of an authors books would go the same way. When the author themselves passed beyond the veil and obviously stopped writing (or at the very least went beyond the reach of any communication with their publisher) then the flow of royalties would come to a close.
Now bear in mind out of print and out of copywrite are not the same thing. Here in Ireland, copywrite extends seventy year after the author dies1), so the book does not enter the public domain until in all likelihood the authors grandchildren are receiving their pension. But in equal likelihood the average book has ceased to produce money long, long before that time.
E-publishing, particularly self-e-publishing has changed that. In theory at least, once a book hits the digital shelves, it could stay there forever2) and that even if for most of the seventy year copywrite period it earns a very small amount per year, with enough years that could add up.
When it comes to inheritance royalties are a bit of an odd one. Mostly when a person dies, revenue streams (pay or pension) stop. All that remains are their assets which will then be liquidated with funds or goods passed on as detailed by the will, once done that’s that. Royalties will be different in that they will remain a revenue stream that could just keep going.
Now I will point out I am Not qualified to give formal advice on wills in any country. But I can say this. If there are royalties then the big word here is Managed.
At the very least I would assume that to keep a book available it will have to be occasionally moving forward into the next file format. I would guess that to leave detailed instructions is fairly pointless, the march of time will likely render the authors knowledge obsolete in short order. Fifty years ago Amazon was just a big wet thing in South American, fifty years from now… it probably won’t exist in exactly the form we know it now. So instead the best the writer can do is ensure someone – with emphasis on ‘one’ – is granted the authority to make decisions, including choose their successor (seventy years remember). After all who knows, maybe someone will look to make a film version of your book and if that day comes, would it be nice to think that family/friend/worthy charity could be looking at a payday with your name on it.
I case of new opportunities bringing new problems but this is one that is pretty solvable.
1) It maybe different in other countries, I honestly have no idea.
2) With the usual qualifier that no one knows the future. Not many people would have predicted the rise of e-readers and e-self-publishing. Who knows what the shape of publishing will be twenty years from now.