Pub Rants

Calling All You "Angels"

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STATUS: Grumpy. I’ve been doing contract discussions for the last two months with various publishing houses regarding the changing digital landscape and monies associated with it. Most publishers demand that electronic rights be sold at same time as the print rights but they don’t want to answer bothersome questions such as the Google Partner Program or the Google Settlement.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UP THE JUNCTION by Squeeze

Or maybe another word that begins with an “A” and has exactly 6 letters as well. I have to say that the digital landscape is changing publishing and publishing contracts almost daily.

Take the most recent Penguin contract I received about four weeks ago as an example. Now publishers always reserve the right to change their boilerplate at any time. I get that. All I ask is the courtesy of being notified when they have done so.

Remember the whole S&S furor last summer when they deleted the crucial last four lines from their out of print clause—thus eliminating the absolutely critical sales threshold that allows rights to revert back to the author—and didn’t tell anyone that they had done so?

Well, this isn’t quite as egregious as that little contract fiasco but I’m miffed all the same. This time, Penguin has inserted a new clause that has become 9. (b) ii. of the contract and didn’t mention it.

Nope. Found it because I scrutinize every contract closely.

This new clause is what I would call a kitchen sink clause for electronic uses of a work. So broad it’s meant to cover anything currently in existence and things we can only imagine for the future. It’s also going to set a strong precedence of reducing the split of monies to authors for electronic display of rights—and yes, I’m talking about Google here (or any other entity of like nature) and all the revenue generated by electronic microtransactions or click-thru ads in association with electronic content etc.

The prevailing philosophy has been that the electronic display of content was a subright use of an author’s electronic/display rights. Handled under sublicense, standard split for this is 50/50 between author and publisher. This new clause treats this income not as a subright but as a sales channel with a royalty structure of 30% of net amounts received given to the author.

There’s a big difference between 30% of net amounts received and 50%. And I don’t care that right now I’m talking about pennies, really, because who knows what this revenue will look like 10 years from now. Twenty years from now.

The digital landscape is literally changing publishing daily and as usual, it’s up to we agents to fight unfair clauses that don’t allow the author of the work to participate equally in the revenue generated by their content.

25 Responses

  1. MeganRebekah said:

    I love the new possibilities that the digital revolution has brought to me as a reader. I have the Kindle 2 and am a complete addict.

    It is so disappointing (although not surprising) to see how corporations treat the authors. It reminds me of the whole Writer’s Strike from last year where there were arguments over revenue from online episodes.

  2. Madison said:

    Anyone who has you for an agent is a lucky person to have someone who cares so much about them and their work to be as thourough as you are. Keep it up, Ms. Nelson! 🙂

  3. ~Sia McKye~ said:

    There are so many new uses of ‘electronic uses’ on the landscape to begin with. So many possibilities for future revenues. While I can understand the whys, I’m glad to see agents on top of it. It might pennies today, but 3 (because things are moving rapidly, growing and expanding in this area) years from now? It could be dollars. And lots of them.

    *pushing two excedrin in Kristin’s direction. I’m sure what number this headache is but hope these help. 🙂

  4. magolla said:

    Damn! I so want you right now! Too bad you don’t represent any authors below middle grade. When my book is polished to perfection I hope you will consider me. You are what every author needs in an agent

  5. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    Kristen said:
    **Or maybe another word that begins with an “A” and has exactly 6 letters as well.**

    Hmmmm…I give up. The only word that immediately comes to mind that starts with an “A” has seven letters.

  6. madara said:

    Nice catch. You raise a very important point. Who knows where electronic media will take us?

    Your clients are lucky to have someone as thorough as you.

  7. therese said:

    Good catch!
    This sounds like the we-do-what-we-want-and-with-no-regulation that messed the economy. It feels like a combination of greed and fear.

    The more avenues I explore about the publishing panic of today, I’m finding going straight to epub a more comforting scenario.

  8. Joseph L. Selby said:

    The current implementation and exploitation of publishing companies in regard to electronic media is so poor that I really wonder if I should even bother shopping my manuscript. It may look like pennies now, but that’s changing rapidly. Publishers know it, but they have last year’s numbers to try and leverage cheap royalties knowing those numbers go up as soon as a better infrastructure and sales focus are implemented. As eReaders gain market saturation, this will become a bigger and bigger deal. Maybe I should just wait until that happens.

  9. Dorothy said:

    Hooray for you! Good and careful reading of leagalese to catch the changes is the sign of a master. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.

  10. susiej said:

    Very interesting. And I agree with whoever commented above that this is the perfect example of why an author needs an agent.

    Its not anything that would occur to me. I am not attracted to the idea of digital reading at all. I love the feel of a book in my hands. I get a kick out of brousing book stores and libraries, seeing the books.

    But I do recognize that cutting down on paper use is a good thing.

  11. HeatherM said:

    You go girl! They should call you superagent! I’m thinking you need a day-or maybe a week-at the spa.

    As for the clause, they’re already reaching so far into authors pockets that it should be considered sexual harrassment. 😉

  12. Anonymous said:

    So what happens if you get last years contract, change the names and dates, sign it and send it back?

    Would they catch it?

    Probably bad karma though.

  13. Rebecca Knight said:

    Pennies add up, Kristin, so you keep right on talking about them! 😛

    Thank you for sharing this, even though it sounds like a crazy time. I’ve been wondering how this will all shake out with electronic books becoming more and more prevalent, so this is fascinating.

    Good luck, and go kick some ass!

  14. Anonymous said:

    I have a contract that’s been hung up because of e-book issues. It’s hard to wait, but I’d hate to think of what would have happened without my agent.

  15. Jael said:

    Ooooh, Kristin called someone a nasty name. Albeit in the most genteel, roundabout and polite way possible. 🙂

  16. Martin Q. said:

    What our esteemed agent friend is attempting to ignore about digital/electronic publishing is this; eventually, if we all abandon reading print books (highly unlikely, since not everyone will spill hundreds of dollars for a reader), the big broadband e-book sellers (Amazon, etc) will become publishers in their own right, and with the remarkable cheapness of electronic storage, will take tons more material than the print publisher— allowing readers to focus very narrowly on what kind of books they wish to read, lowering the quality overall of the ‘published’ word and dropping author fees into the toilet… and eliminating the need for agents. “What, you say you like books about vampire hookers who battle werewolf cops by the light of the moon? Lucky you… we’ve got thirty different titles that cover that! Here’s the top three…”

    Popular, bestselling novelists will only need to start up a website and sell their books directly to the public… again, eliminating the need for agents and allowing them to keep all the cash for themselves. You honestly think Stephen King or JK Rowling couldn’t afford to sell their own work on a sophisticated website? Rowling would be worth ten times as much if she sold direct to the public!

    Of course, since she’s selling digital media rather than a book, people are only going to pay a fraction for it that they would for something to sit on a shelf. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that once upon a time, a female friend of the family showed up with the first three books of Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series on her Palm Pilot. She didn’t buy it… she downloaded it from a friend’s PC.

    Happy Writing!

  17. worldofhiglet said:

    Digital rights was one of the issues that caused the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007-08. It is incredibly important because no-one knows how things are going to shake out.

    The future of publishing is not clear which is why making sure contracts are balanced fairly is so crucial. That Penguin inserted the clause without telling anyone is not a surprise, they were probably hoping you wouldn’t notice.

  18. Julie Henry said:

    I love that you’re so passionate about standing up for authors’ rights. You rock Kristin Nelson!

  19. Anonymous said:

    The publishers are trying to do a not so subtle end-run around an author’s potential earnings in the electronic delivery of product. Electronic delivery systems of books is the future. To cut an author’s percentage by 40% in a growing market that will eventually become the major source of income in publishing is a huge haircut. Pretty darn ballsy if you ask me.

  20. Sally Jean said:

    Piffle, unadulterated piffle. Electronic books are not the future. That is pure intelligentsia tripe, which makes the assumption that everyone has an excellent internet connection (there are stats that intimate less than twenty percent of the country is on broadband), an updated computer system and/or an electronic reader device. It also presumes that every person who buys books will upgrade to an e-reader and accepting that they can read as long as their battery has life. People who are gadget-porn addicts will assuredly make the switch, for the love of yet another gadget, but most people do not buy enough books for pleasure in the course of a year to merit buying a reader.

    It makes no sense.

    I’ll buy into the whole ‘print is dead’ movement when every school child is issued a dependable, durable e-reader in school, one worth thirty bucks or so that needs to be charged once a week. Remember twenty years ago when we thought every school kid would be seated behind a PC by now? That hasn’t happened… sure, there are computers in the classroom, and computer labs in every building, but the concept of every school kid doing every stitch of work on a computer is still science fiction.