A few weeks ago I published an interview with Steve Rossiter from The Australian Literature Review on the serious problems with the author contract in Dymocks Books’ self-publishing venture D Publishing. In response to widespread criticism of the document, Dymocks had amended its initial agreement, but the changes – as Rossiter wrote at the time – were ‘negligible’ and Rossiter had been in talks with senior management at Dymocks to try to bring the agreement into line with industry standards.
A third version of the contract has now been published, and is available on the D Publishing site here. The revised document now contains several red boxes which seek to clarify many of the terms, and is preceded by a ‘Guide to Publishing Agreement,’ and (when you click through to the agreement from the homepage) auto directs to a long ‘Publishing Agreement FAQ‘. These changes appear to maintain Dymocks’ position throughout the affair that the issues were with comprehension rather than inherent in document and the rights it allocated to authors.
However, for those wanting to take advantage of D Publishing’s distribution channels and enter into the agreement, it’s not a case of third time lucky. In a post for Aus Lit on the new contract, Rossiter characterised it as ‘a big opportunity being wasted by Dymocks.’
It’s a shame because D Publishing could have been enthusiastically embraced by Australian authors and could have positioned Dymocks to grow into something like an Australasian Amazon, but I don’t see how they are going to attract a lot of quality content with their new Publishing Agreement.
Publishing contract expert Alex Adsett assessed the revised agreement for Liticism (you can read Adsett’s full account of the new contract on her site here) and claims that ‘while the latest version includes genuine improvement, providing additional explanations and addressing some of the concerns raised, it still has not remedied two of the biggest failings of the first.’
‘Essentially, D Publishing still have the right to change the fee structure and (almost all of) the terms of the contract at any time, and the Author still has no recourse to terminate the contract,’ Adsett said.
Though there have been some positive changes to the agreement, such as authors retaining the right to distribute their work in channels not exploited by D Publishing and have also given concessions in the subsidiary rights from the previous contracts, as Adsett writes,
The Author has the option to nominate whether they want to (a) use D Publishing to publish in Core Distribution Channels only (ie. Dymocks stores, Dymocks online and Google ebooks), or (b) allow D Publishing to control Secondary Distribution Channels and subsidiary rights as well.
D Publishing have also limited the Subsidiary rights they may hold to non-exclusive i) anthology & quotation, ii) extracts, and iii) condensations, with the license and fee split subject to the Author’s consent. This is a big improvement from the previous position where D Publishing could claim exclusivity over all subsidiary rights and unilaterally decide their percentage of income.
There are still serious problems with the agreement, the most fundamental being that it does not allow the author to terminate the contract. As Adsett notes, ‘Although D Publishing have the right to terminate the contract upon 30 days notice at their convenience, this right has not been extended to the Author.’ It is clear that the agreement is still not in line with industry standards:
Standard commercial publishing contracts (with publishers who actually invest their own resources into a Work) allow for reversion of rights when a Work is out of print or no longer selling. Self publishing or vanity press contracts allow for termination at the Author’s discretion. The D Publishing contract includes neither of these options, and the Author may remain trapped into the arrangement with D Publishing, unless D Publishing manage to breach their nebulous obligations or go into liquidation.
Ultimately, Adsett warns, ‘Despite the improvements with this version of the D Publishing agreement, I would have serious reservations about any Author signing the contract. The complete lack of adequate termination provisions leaves the Author with no ability to walk away in the face of inaction, incompetence or shrinking returns.’