I have a lot of books to catch up on, made worse by the fact that I barely posted at all last week, but before I get to that I have a fairly important announcement to make: According to a post on the Barnes & Noble forums, Dorchester Publishing is going out of business.
Dorchester is a publisher of mass market genre novels, such as romance and Westerns. Apparently as far back as 2009, though, they started showing signs of financial difficulties. Dorchester was continuing to sell ebooks that they had no rights to, and wasn't paying authors their royalties. A boycott of Dorchester books started in March 2011, and the SFWA delisted Dorchester last month, the second organization to do so. Now it sounds like they are in their final death throes: According to the B&N forum post, their editorial staff and sales/marketing VP are gone.
It's unfortunate, but it seems like going out of business is long overdue. Essentially they stayed in business as long as they did by throwing their authors under the bus — no doubt failing to pay royalties allowed them to pay their other bills, at least for a while. But that kind of behavior tends to catch up with a company after a while, and now it sounds like they're done.
The forum threads on B&N advocate backing up all of your Dorchester ebooks — they've offered quite a few free ones over the last few years, so you might have a few, even if you aren't aware of it. The thread also suggests buying any books you want while they are still available, though someone else immediately posted saying not to do so because the authors likely won't get paid. My suggestion is to try to evaluate how likely it is that the author will show up later with another publisher. Well-established authors probably will, but from what I know of the publishing industry, more obscure authors probably wouldn't have had enough negotiating power to get a contract that readily returned rights to them.
If you ask me, this is a pretty scary justification for self-publishing. You'll never find yourself in publishing rights limbo that way!