Just an abstract scenario, because I don’t want to get anyone (or myself) in trouble:
Publisher owns print rights to backlist title. Publisher does not promote said title, resting on the title either selling well on its own or rotting. Publisher has first dibs at electronic rights, fumbles them with a bad offer. Other publisher secures e-rights by offering a competitive deal. New publisher promotes same backlist title, blows it out of the water. Promoting ebook leads to collateral sales of pbook; also gets mentioned in industry news as a huge success. First publisher gets upset about accidentally succeeding, even to a minimal degree, calls the agent that represents the title, and complains about how first publisher didn’t get the ebook rights.
Yes, this really happened, like right just now, today.
Hint, first publisher: YOU DIDN’T GET THE EBOOK RIGHTS BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T PROMOTING THE TITLE AND DIDN’T OFFER FAIR ROYALTIES. Now quit harassing other people for your bad business practices and get back to work, such as it is.
Also, as a note, the phone call from the agency at your bequest to ask why their title was doing noteworthily well led to new business for us. So thanks, I guess.
On all sides, publishers are uncompetitive. They offer bad deals to their producers, pay too much for the internal services they offer to secure those producers, and then can’t figure out how to make peace with their retailers, any retailer. Only one of these facts has been in the news for the last few years, but make no mistake, all three are true.
These facts are the exact crazy-person reasons that makes me think anyone with the slightest business sense can get ahead in this industry, and also, why publishing is going down the shitter.