As our research has shown, publishing contracts (almost always) last for the entire term of copyright, and cover a broad range of rights and uses – commonly all territories worldwide, and all languages. But publishers don’t always actually exploit all the rights they take for any given title, and in most cases they stop meaningfully investing in the ones they have used – by allowing the book to go out of print, for example.
This is the case even for winners of Australia’s most glittering literary prize, the Miles Franklin. With Robin Gardner and Louise Ellis from the Academic Research Service at the Melbourne Law School, the Author’s Interest Project investigated the availability of these prize winners (1957-2019) in Australia in different formats. We searched Books in Print, TROVE and library catalogues to establish publisher information and then verifying availability from the publishers’ individual sites. Here are the headline findings:
1. 23 of the 62 winners were NOT available as ebooks
2. 40 of the 62 winners were NOT available as audiobooks
3. 10 winners were NOT available in Australia in any form whatsoever – ie no print, no e, no audio, no print-on-demand.
That there are such black holes in availability and investment for these titles hints at how much of Australia’s literary heritage is languishing, unexploited. This is one reason why reversion rights are so important. By enabling copyrights to be reclaimed – for example over formats, languages or territories that have been assigned but never exploited, or books that have gone out of print – they can open up new revenue streams for authors, investment opportunities for publishers, and access opportunities for the public.
Here’s the full list of missing titles:
- 1959 Vance Palmer, The Big Fellow
- 1960 Elizabeth O’Conner, The Irishman
- 1962 George Turner, The Cupboard Under the Stairs
- 1962 Thea Astley, The Well Dressed Explorer
- 1970 Dal Stivens, A Horse of Air
- 1972 Thea Astley, The Acolyte
- 1974 Ronald McKie, The Mango Tree
- 1982 Rodney Hall, Just Relations
- 1990 Tom Flood, Oceana Fine
- 1994 Rodney Hall, The Grisly Wife
And here’s the list of a past Miles Franklin winners that are available as audiobooks – because we’re going to need plenty of those to get us through the apocalypse!
- 1977 Ruth Park, Swords and Crowns and Rings
- 1980 Jessica Anderson, The Impersonators
- 1981 Peter Carey, Bliss
- 1984 Tim Winton, Shallows
- 1986 Elizabeth Jolley, The Well
- 1989 Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda
- 1991 David Malouf, The Great World
- 1992 Tim Winton, Cloudstreet
- 1996 Christopher Koch, Highways to a War
- 1999 Murray Bail, Eucalyptus
- 2000 Kim Scott, Benang: From the Heart
- 2002 Tim Winton, Dirt Music
- 2007 Alexis Wright, Carpentaria
- 2009 Tim Winton, Breath
- 2010 Peter Temple, Truth
- 2011 Kim Scott, That Deadman Dance
- 2013 Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel
- 2014 Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing
- 2015 Sofie Laguna, The Eye of the Sheep
- 2016 A.S. Patrić, Black Rock White City
- 2018 Michelle de Kretser, The Life to Come
- 2019 Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Please let us know if you think we’ve missed anything!