Saturday, July 26, 2008

Random House's Turn

Last Saturday here, I told readers that Simon & Schuster was sending a letter to its authors, raising e-book royalty rates to 15%, but changing the terms of the contract. The Authors Guild was the first to bring up the issue here. They had previously forced S&S to back down during a rights grab in May, 2007. This year, S&S appears to be using a "honey" approach in its efforts to capture flies.

Now it's the Random House Group in the news. had an article on Friday with writers complaining about changes to the contract of RH:
The controversy hinges on the definition of "out of print" in the digital environment, with one agent saying RHG was "trying to power through enormous changes to the contractual precedent". . .

Society of Authors deputy general secretary Kate Pool said her major concern with RHG's new boilerplate was an out-of-print clause allowing rights reversion only if the publisher cannot supply a physical or electronic copy of a book within a month, or if there have been no royalty earnings for a year. The author body plans to raise the issue with RHG.

Pool said: ". . . this is a way that publishers can sit on rights for years on end."
In response, Random House issued a statement, which said in part:
"When we acquire a new title, we commit to the author to do the very best job we can to publish and sell their book. Understandably, we believe we should have the right to continue to sell that book for as long as there is a viable market for it and responsibly take advantage of all new digital technologies.

"We continue to work closely with the author and agent community to implement terms that are fair, but also reflect the fast-changing nature of the modern publishing industry."
Authors who have first been published by e-publishing houses know the big e-book publishers offer rates around 33% to 35%. The New York houses have a standard paperback rate around 7.5%. They are trying to hold e-books at or near that rate WHILE trying to prevent reversion of rights to the author.

I've said it many times before, and I will continue harping on it: Writers need to pay attention to their contracts--whether or not they have an agent. Writers OWN their careers and MUST understand what a contract is obligating them to.

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