Dorchester Publishing, whose publishing program has been moribund for months, is likely to be acquired by Amazon. The e-tailer/publisher has made a bid to acquire the assets of the company and, as part of the sale, Amazon will pay all outstanding royalties owed to Dorchester authors. Through the deal, Amazon will acquire 1,900 active titles in many of the genres in which it already publishes, including romance and westerns.
Moving forward, Dorchester authors will, Amazon said, be offered the choice about how they want their titles published. An Amazon spokesperson explained: "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."
Other parties interested in bidding on the assets have until August 15 to submit a proposal that must include at least 20% of the purchase price. The final auction is set for August 28 at the offices of Garfunkel Wild in Great Neck, N.Y.
The auction process was set in motion by John Backe, owner of Dorchester Publishing's parent company, and who is owed $3.4 million. For the last two years, the publisher has struggled to remake itself after the steep drop in demand for mass market paperbacks, its main format for most of its existence.
Dorchester's money troubles began over two years ago and, after the house switched to a digital/print-on-demand model, it looked as if it would file for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy filing, however, did not happen and, instead, the publisher shed staff and became something of a shadow operation as a buyer was sought. PW spoke to a number of agents over the last month who said they had been trying, without success, for well over a year to secure royalties for their authors who were not being paid. Many of the sources PW spoke to said that the problems at Dorchester went from bad to worse and the fight for royalties soon turned into an attempt to secure a reversion of rights on their clients' titles. Those efforts, also, were not successful.
The experience of Chris Fortunato, who runs an eponymous literary agency, typified that of many sources who spoke to PW. "As far as my author is concerned, they are not communicating with him or paying royalties." Fortunato said that the one contact at the publisher he was able to get on the phone told him, for well over a year, that a sale was imminent. He went on: "The owners of Dorchester are not even fulfilling their obligations to foreign publishers by providing pdfs of manuscripts for which the rights have been sold. They are not fulfilling any of the normal functions of a publisher, yet they continue to pocket receipts for e-books and foreign royalties."
Another source, an agent who is also a lawyer, said she was contacted by numerous authors who, not receiving royalties, were looking to have the rights to their books reverted. This source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the issue with securing a reversion of rights for authors who were not getting paid by Dorchester had to do with the fact that publisher never filed for bankruptcy. Many publishing contracts contain clauses stipulating a reversion of rights in the event of bankruptcy and, since there was no bankruptcy here, getting those rights back, this source said, proved difficult. This source said she deals with Dorchester authors who had not been paid royalties, or money from foreign rights sales, in over a year; she estimated that these authors were owed anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000.
Another agent, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed similar frustration. She said her client's book with Dorchester has continued to sell, but no royalty statements from the house have arrived in months. "I not only could not get a royalty statement from them over the past year, but everyone at that house fell off the grid. After I asked for all rights to be reverted back to my client, nary a peep! All we want at the moment are the rights back."