Pre-empt is a term used in the book industry to describe acquiring the rights to a book before it’s published. There are many ways of doing this, including offering an author a higher advance than any other publisher or offering to pay for the entire cost of the book’s production.
In publishing, pre-emptive offers are made when someone wants to acquire a book but isn’t sure if it will be successful. By making a pre-emptive offer, the buyer can secure those rights without risking as much money as they would if they waited until it was clear that everyone else wanted it, too.
It can also be done because one publisher knows another is interested in something and does not want them to have it.
The purpose of pre-empting something is generally so that no one else gets their hands on whatever you’re buying – in essence, so you have monopoly control over it – which can be exploited for profit (such as by charging more) or because you don’t want anyone else doing anything with whatever-it-is. That second instance may sound bizarre and counterproductive. However, it has some basis: what if your arch-rival bought up all essential knitting books and started releasing many books about how dangerous it was? If readers received these well, your business could suffer quite quickly.
Pre-empting is vital because publishers use it when they want to buy something before its publication date. This means they get control over its publication and ensure everything meets their standards. They also avoid competition from rival publishers who might also be interested in buying those same rights.