What we ask is simple: publishers need to revise many of their standard contract terms to make them more equitable. Authors should get at least 50% of ebook revenue, not a mere 25%. Authors should not have their hands tied with contracts which cannot be terminated when a book is no longer being exploited or be subject to non-compete and option clauses that make it even more difficult for them to write and publish new books. Indemnity clauses should spread risk fairly between the publisher and the author. Royalty statements should be transparent and comprehensive. And we ask publishers not to discriminate against authors who don?t have powerful agents. When negotiating with agents publishers often start from previously negotiated forms that remove, or at least soften the blow of, some of the more draconian provisions offered to unagented authors. Why not do the right thing by all authors and eliminate those provisions for everyone?
The Telegraph and The Guardian have covered the story, and the latter has been dissected over at The Passive Voice. And a post by Robert J. Sawyer just crossed my desk today which discussed this issue.
As a general rule, I support the letters, although I do wince at the Society of Authors’ Histrionics and at the misleading claims made about author incomes.
The SoA claimed that “without serious contract reform the
professional author will become an endangered species”, which is sorta true in a “the sky is falling” kind of way. (Even though it makes me roll my eyes, I will admit that writers earning more would be a good thing.)
But the misleading claims that authors are earning less than before don’t get the same grudging agreement.
The claims are not supported by facts. Each author group is basing their claim on recently conducted surveys into author income, and I have a couple problems with the surveys and the conclusions.
There is of course the Author Earnings reports, which show that authors are earning more from the Amazon.com Kindle Store and the UK Kindle Store (source) than ever before. Authors are significantly boosting their income by cutting out publishers, thus casting doubt on the claims that authors are earning less.
But more importantly, a careful reading of the survey reports tells us that it would be more accurate to say that the reports show that the members of the two author groups are earning less (rather than writers in general).
One often overlooked detail is that the survey groups were drawn from the membership rolls of the two organization, and so the surveys say less about writer incomes in general than they do about the incomes of writers who belong to the two groups. (And there are other issues with TAG’s survey, too, including a tiny survey group.)
BTW, you can find the SoA’s survey here (PDF), in case you should want to confirm my statement. It too is based on a small survey group.