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Society of Authors Wants the UK to Protect Authors From Publishers

9535062704_56d8629a57_hToday I encountered the usual backward-looking proposal from the legacy publishing industry.

The Guardian published an article yesterday where  the Society of Authors called for the UK gov’t to adopt a proposed EU directive which would protect authors from the take it or leave it contracts offered by online services.

Only, the difference is, the SoA sees this in terms of legacy publishers.

His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman has welcomed a “badly need[ed]” new proposal from the European Commission that would protect authors who achieve unexpected success from missing out on royalties.

Pullman was speaking as president of the Society of Authors, which is pressing the UK government to adopt clauses from the new EU draft directive on the digital single market in order to “avoid unfair practices that currently prevent authors making a living from writing”. The Society highlighted the case of Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon, who has not received any royalties from the television and film adaptations of her Horrid Henry books, despite the series being broadcast in 44 countries with more than 1.5m DVDs sold.

In an article last December, Simon revealed that she was missing out on the royalties because when she sold Orion her first Horrid Henry book in 1993, the book deal included film and television rights. A deal with Novel Entertainment for those rights was subsequently negotiated by Orion. “They did a poor deal. They did not use a lawyer,” wrote Simon in the Author magazine. “Not understanding their proper value led to the worst mistake of my career.”

The new draft directive, released last week, states that authors “often have a weak bargaining position in their contractual relationships, when licensing their rights”, and that “transparency on the revenues generated by the use of their works or performances often remains limited”, with this affecting their remuneration.

One might infer from the author quoted in the article that this directive is focused on legacy publishers, but that would be your assumptions jumping up and blinding you (me, actually) to the real story.

The directive, which you can read here (PDF), covers copyright licensing in the Digital Single Market. It is focused less on the legacy industry than on companies like Amazon, Apple, Pandora, and the like.

The Society of Authors, on the other hand, had a distinctively different take. Go read its statement and you’ll see this group is focused on the legacy publishing industry rather than the new digital opportunities.

That was to be expected, but it’s still a shame. If the SoA really cared about "authors making a living from writing" then  what it should be doing is telling authors to go it alone rather than sign contracts with publishers.

Why sign a contract with a book publisher if they are no longer needed to reach the market? Is it really worth giving up a majority of the earnings as well as all control over a work when the average author can earn more without a publisher?

image by Don McCullough

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Will Entrekin September 22, 2016 um 3:58 pm

"Why sign a contract with a book publisher if they are no longer needed to reach the market?"

Media attention and reviews. I mean, those aren’t needed to reach the market, either, but corporate publishers are the only ones who get media attention and reviews. Most publications that review books are actively closed to indie authors.

Again, not saying those are necessary to reach the market, but maybe it’s not all about reaching the market/selling books.

fjtorres September 22, 2016 um 4:27 pm

A better approach would be to limit rights grabs. These days the big publishers demand full global rights, not just print, digital, and audio for their local market. They even grab rights for technologies not invented, literally.
What gripes anybody might have with Amazon, they only demand digital distribution, 90 days at a time, in their contracts.

JSWolf September 22, 2016 um 4:34 pm

By being with a known publisher, people are more willing to take a chancwe with your book if it sounds interesting.

BDR September 22, 2016 um 7:58 pm

So … do you REALLY believe that anyone looks at the publisher and says "gee, I’ve heard of them so I’m gonna buy this book"?? SERIOUSLY??

Please., that’s just idiotic.

JSWolf September 23, 2016 um 5:17 am

A lot of people don’t do independently published books. But if a book is published by a known publisher, some people might look more into it as long as it sounds interesting enough.

Smart Debut Author September 23, 2016 um 10:07 am

JSWolf, there’s zero market evidence of that — it’s just something you hear people repeat.

The reality of the industry sales numbers simply don’t back it up.

Sure, it’s easy to dig up and point to opinionated comments on places like Kboards and in HuffPo articles, made by individual readers here and there, about how horrid independent books are and how they absolutely don’t ever read them. But the evidence of the numbers says that those readers represent a tiny minority.

And personally, I bet if you check their e-reading devices, you’ll find plenty of indie books–that they enjoyed, but have absolutely no idea are indie.

Smart Debut Author September 23, 2016 um 10:19 am

In my experience, the same is true of print readers in bookstores, too.

At my last booksigning at a Barnes & Noble, I sold over 60 books in 4 hours… and not one reader even brought up the words "self-published" or "publisher." When I told them that I had set up my own publisher, they were blown away.

When I participated in a Mystery & Thriller panel at a large local independent bookstore — the panel consisted of me and three traditionally published NYT best sellers — the fact that I was an indie mattered not at all to any of the audience. The line for me afterward was just as long, and they asked for just as many signed books, as from the trad NYT best sellers.

Again, some of it’s genre-dependent; I write Mystery, Thriller and Suspense. If I was writing litfic, the mileage might vary.

But then again, it might not. Nowadays, who knows?

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