S&S edition of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’

14 December 2010 in The Mistress of Nothing

Yesterday I was very excited to receive my first copy of the hardcover edition of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which Touchstone, Simon & Schuster US, are publishing next month.  It’s a very handsome edition.  It’s also been ages since I’ve had a book published in hard cover so the snob/bibliophile inside me is secretly thrilled.

However, yesterday I also received a lovely email that set off an interesting chain of discoveries.  The mail was from Rosalyn Landor, an actor who had recently finished recording an audiobook version of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’; the mail was very sweet and complimentary, a treat to read first thing on a Monday morning.  Despite the fact that the name of the actor was unfamiliar, I assumed that she was referring to the recent CBC audio recording of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ which is currently being broadcast on Sirius radio in Canada.  So I replied to her, and forwarded the mail to my publishers in Toronto, as well as the CBC producer who had bought the book for radio. 

Everyone was a bit baffled.  No Rosalyn Landor had been involved in the CBC recording.  What did this mean?  A bit of googling (of course) turned up the answer - an unabridged audio edition of the novel, created by Blackstone Audio in the US, was for sale via Amazon.  A few enquiries later, it was determined that S&S had licensed the audio rights; they will publish the hardcover, the ebook, and the audio book simultaneously.  Their audio edition is available as mp3, on CDs, as well as, quaintly, cassette tapes (6 tapes in total, ‘packaged in a sturdy vinyl case’). 

So, of course, this is great.  McArthur & Co in Canada are about to launch our own audio version of the book, in collaboration with the CBC; unlike the Blackstone Audio edition, this will be an enhanced abrdiged audio edition, enabling the reader to move seamlessly between audio recording and reading the text on screen, accompanied by an image slideshow and a series of video interviews.  It will be one of the first Canadian-made enhanced editions available. 

However, the googling also unearthed a problem, one that is characteristic of digitisation;  the Blackstone audio edition is for sale in territories where they don’t own the rights, including Canada and the UK.  There is nothing sinister about this;  Blackstone’s eretail sales dept probably enters all English language markets automatically.  At the end of the day, it will turn out to be a slip of the metadata, the territorial licensing terms in the original contract missed out along the way.  But for my Canadian publishers, about to launch their own audio edition, in their own territory, this was a serious mistake, and one that needs to be corrected swiftly. 

There’s no moral to this story.  But for me it serves as a demonstration of the complexities of publishing in the digital age.  Territorial rights are one of the many complicating factors in our online world.  Digitisation brings vastly improved access to multiple versions of a single book.  But publishing in 2010 is about managing, and to a certain extent policing, metadata.  As Dominique Raccah of Source Books points out so clearly, digitisation is not simplifying publishing processes but adding a series of new steps in to an already complex publishing chain.


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