Five ways to boost Australian writers’ earnings

File 20190130 108351 fgxk1c.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

By changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more.
shutterstock

Rebecca Giblin, Monash University and Joshua Yuvaraj, Monash University

Who makes the money in publishing? Nobody. This often repeated dark joke highlights a serious issue. The most recent figures show that Australian authors earn just $12,900 a year from writing work (the median, at $2,800, was even worse). Indeed, authors can gross less than $5,000 for Miles Franklin-nominated titles that took two or more years to write.

Fixing this isn’t as simple as reaching more deeply into publisher pockets, because most of those are empty too. While the major international houses are thriving (Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House recently reported 16% profits), publishing Australian stories can be financially perilous.

In independent publishing, 10% of the book sale goes to the author, perhaps another 10% to the printer, and up to a whopping 70% for distribution. What’s left has to pay the publisher, editor, marketers, admin staff and keep the lights on.

But we can improve our approach to author rights. Here are five lessons we can learn from elsewhere to help Australian writers earn more money.


Read more:
Scrounging for money: how the world’s great writers made a living


#1: Give authors stronger out of print rights

Traditionally, contractual “out of print” clauses have let authors reclaim their rights when a print run has sold out and the publisher doesn’t want to invest in another. But in our recent analysis of almost 150 contracts in the Australian Society of Authors archive, we found 85% of contracts with these clauses allowed authors to reclaim their rights only when the book was “not available in any edition”.

These days, books can be kept available (at least digitally or via print-on-demand) forever – but that doesn’t mean their publishers are still actively promoting them.

A better approach is to allow authors to reclaim their rights towards the end of a work’s commercial life, determined with reference to objective criteria like the number of copies sold or royalties earned in the previous year. The Australian Society of Authors recommends authors only sign contracts that have this meaningful kind of out-of-print clause – but many publishers still try to get authors to sign up to unacceptable terms.


Read more:
How to read the Australian book industry in a time of change


A growing number of countries (including France, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Macedonia and Brazil mandate author rights based on objective criteria. The French law is an interesting model. There, authors can get their rights back if a book has been published for at least four years, and they haven’t been credited royalties for at least two. This opens up new possibilities for the author to license it to another publisher, or even sell it directly to libraries or consumers.

Rebecca Giblin on the problems with publishing contracts and the case for new author rights.

#2: ‘Use it or lose it’: return author rights when they’re not being used

Publishers take very broad rights to most books: in our recent archival analysis we found 83% took worldwide rights, and 43% took rights in all languages. It’s easy to take rights – but if publishers do so, they should be obliged to either use them or give them back.

To that end we can learn from the “use it or lose it” laws that bind publishers in some parts of Europe. In Spain and Lithuania, for example, authors can get their rights back for languages that are still unexploited after five years.

#3: Introduce a ‘bestseller’ clause to contracts

Of course, it’s not always the case that there’s no money in publishing: sometimes a title that was expected to sell 5,000 copies sells 5,000,000. That changes the economics enormously: but in many cases, the contract only provides the same old 10% revenue for the author. For works that achieve unexpected success, we can learn from Germany and the Netherlands (and the proposed new EU copyright law). They have “bestseller” clauses that give authors the right to share fairly in unexpected windfalls arising from their work.

#4: Legally enshrine the right to fair payment

Even where there’s not much money to be made, the author should still receive a fair share. Again, Germany and the Netherlands lead the way on this. There, authors are entitled to “fair” or “equitable” payment for their work – and can enforce those rights if their pay is too low.

These laws don’t set a dollar amount, since what is “fair” depends on all the circumstances. However, such laws at least provide a minimum floor. If the contracted amount is unfair or inequitable, authors have a legal right to redress.

#5: Put time limits on transfers

In Australia, copyright lasts for the life of the author, and then another 70 years after that. Publishers almost always take rights for that full term – only 3% of the contracts between publishers and authors we looked at took less. But publishers don’t need that long to recoup their investments. In the US, authors can reclaim their rights from intermediaries 35 years after they licensed or transferred them.

In Canada, copyrights transfer automatically to heirs 25 years after an author dies. We used to have the same law in Australia, but it was abolished for spurious reasons about 50 years ago. If we reintroduced a similar time limit on transfers, it would open up new opportunities for authors and their heirs (for example, to license or sell to a different publisher, libraries or direct to the public).

It’s true that there’s often not much money in publishing. But by changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more and make Australian books more freely available.The Conversation

Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow; Associate Professor, Monash University and Joshua Yuvaraj, PhD Candidate, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

A Public Domain Festive Season Gift

It’s that time of year once more. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you readers, followers, and friends for spending time with me and my random collections of (mostly book related) posts in 2018.

Before the New Year, I’ll post one of those Top 10 post lists to discuss the highlights of my 2018 blogging… and the stats, you know I love talking stats.

As a gift for this festive season, I wanted to share some free books with you all. You see, for the first time in over 20 years, on the first of January, books from 1923 will enter the US public domain.

Yes, it has been 75 years already… Wait, quick maths tells me that 1923+75=1998, so shouldn’t these books have already been available in 1999? Why, yes, yes they should have. But apparently, the US Congress decided that for totally justifiable reasons [insert eyeroll] that books from 1923 to 1977 needed an expanded copyright term of 95 years.*

I’ve blogged previously about how copyright has excluded a lot of titles from the public domain. This essentially made any out-of-print titles disappear. And academics like Rebecca Giblin have been researching how copyright needs to change.

But now (some of) the drought is over. Google Books will offer the full text of books from 1923, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. The Internet Archive will add books to its online library, and stores will be able to make these titles available for cheap (studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see herehere, and here.)

A few examples of books that will now be available in the public domain:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Golden Lion
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links
  • Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis
  • e.e. cummings, Tulips and Chimneys
  • Robert Frost, New Hampshire
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  • Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay
  • D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
  • Bertrand and Dora Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
  • Carl Sandberg, Rootabaga Pigeons
  • Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front
  • P.G. Wodehouse, works including The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith (Source)

So have a happy holiday and enjoy whatever festivities you celebrate at this time of year with a free book!

https3A2F2Frememberingletters.files_.wordpress.com2F20122F052Faustralia-christmas-card

*See more on copyright from Rebecca Giblin’s Author’s Interest project.

Everything he does, he does it for us. Why Bryan Adams is on to something important about copyright

Rebecca Giblin, Monash University

Last Tuesday Bryan Adams entered the copyright debate.

That’s Bryan Adams the singer and songwriter, the composer of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”, and “Summer of ’69”.

Authors, artists and composers often have little bargaining power, and are often pressured to sign away their rights to their publisher for life.

Adams appeared before a Canadian House of Commons committee to argue they should be entitled to reclaim ownership of their creations 25 years after they sign them away.

No control until after you are dead

In Canada, they get them back 25 years after they are dead when the rights automatically revert to their estate. In Australia, our law used to do the same, but we removed the provision in 1968. In our law, authors are never given back what they give away.

Some publishers voluntarily put such clauses in their contracts, but that is something they choose to do, rather than something the law mandates.

Australia’s copyright term is long. For written works it lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. It was extended from 50 years after death as part of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.

What copyright is for

Copyright is a government-granted limited monopoly to control certain uses of an author’s work.

It is meant to achieve three main things: incentivise the creation of works, reward authors, and benefit society through access to knowledge and culture.

Incentive and reward are not the same thing.

The incentive needn’t be big

The copyright term needed to provide an incentive to create something is pretty short.

The Productivity Commission has estimated the average commercial life of a piece of music, for example is two to five years. Most pieces of visual art yield commercial income for just two years, with distribution highly skewed toward the small number with a longer life. The average commercial life of a film is three to six years. For books, it is typically 1.4 to five years; 90% of books are out of print after two years.

It is well accepted by economists that a term of about 25 years is the maximum needed to incentivise the creation of works.

But the rewards, for creators, should be

The second purpose is to provide a reward to authors, beyond the bare minimum incentive needed to create something. Quite reasonably, we want to give them a bit extra as thanks for their work.

But, in practice authors, artists and composers are often obliged to transfer all or most of their rights to corporate investors such as record labels or book publishers in order to receive anything at all.

In the film and television industries it is not unusual for creators to have to sign over their whole copyright, forever – and not just here on Earth but throughout the universe at large.




Read more:
Life plus 70: who really benefits from copyright’s long life?


It means investors don’t just take what is needed to incentivise their work but most of the rewards meant for the author as well.

This isn’t new. Creators have been complaining since at least 1737 that too often they have no choice but to transfer their rights before anyone knows what they are worth.

Other countries do it better

In recognition of these realities, many countries, including the US, have enacted author-protective laws that, for example, let creators reclaim their rights back after a certain amount of time, or after publishers stop exploiting them, or after royalties stop flowing. Other laws guarantee creators “fair” or “reasonable” payment.

Australia stands out for having no author protections at all.




Read more:
Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits


Canada’s law already protects authors by giving rights back to their heirs 25 years after they die. Bryan Adams’s proposal is to change one word in that law. Instead of copyright reverting to the creator 25 years after “death”, he wants it to revert 25 years after “transfer”.

Copyright is meant to be about ensuring access

Handing rights back to creators after 25 years would not only help them secure more of copyright’s rewards, it would also help achieve copyright’s other major aim: to promote widespread access to knowledge and culture.

Right now our law isn’t doing a very good job of that, particularly for older material.

Copyright lasts for so long, and distributors lose financial interest in works so fast, that they are often neither properly distributed nor available for anyone else to distribute.




Read more:
Australian copyright reform stuck in an infinite loop


In the book industry my research into almost 100,000 titles has found that publishers license older e-books to libraries on the same terms and for the same prices as newer ones. That includes “exploding” licences which force books to be deleted from collections even if nobody ever borrows them.

Publishers are interested in maximising their share of library collections budgets, not ensuring that a particular author continues to get paid or a particular title continues to get read.

As a result libraries often forgo buying older (but still culturally valuable) books even though they would have bought them if the publisher cared enough to make them available at a reasonable price.

Restricting access to books is not in the interests of authors or readers.

… and directing rewards where they are needed

If rights reverted after 25 years, as I have proposed and as Adams now proposes, authors would be able to do things like license their books directly to libraries in exchange for fair remuneration – say $1 per loan.

If authors weren’t interested in reclaiming their rights, they could automatically default to a “cultural steward” that would use the proceeds to directly support new creators via prizes, fellowships and grants – much like Victor Hugo envisaged with his idea of a “paid public domain” back in 1878.

We could do it all without changing the total copyright term imposed on us by the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement and other treaties. We could get creators paid more fairly while keeping Australian culture alive.

Reversion is the key.The Conversation

Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow; Associate Professor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish

Now this is an interesting study and article. I have actually noticed this phenomenon myself when looking for crime and thriller authors and books from various generations. Everyone knows Robert Howard, Raymond Chandler and Donald E Westlake, they’ve pretty much stayed in print since they were released. But what about the other authors from the 1920s to the mid 1980s? On various writer forums you will find writers re-releasing their novels from the 80s as ebooks. This is the downside of copyright. Read for this article I stole am re-blogging from The Atlantic.

by REBECCA J. ROSEN
A book published during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur has a greater chance of being in print today than one published during the time of Reagan.

neweditions650-thumb-650x317-128315 Last year I wrote about some very interesting research being done by Paul J. Heald at the University of Illinois, based on software that crawled Amazon for a random selection of books. At the time, his results were only preliminary, but they were nevertheless startling: There were as many books available from the 1910s as there were from the 2000s. The number of books from the 1850s was double the number available from the 1950s. Why? Copyright protections (which cover titles published in 1923 and after) had squashed the market for books from the middle of the 20th century, keeping those titles off shelves and out of the hands of the reading public. Heald has now finalized his research and the picture, though more detailed, is largely the same: “Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability,” Heald writes. “Shortly after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners.” The graph above shows the simplest interpretation of the data. It reveals, shockingly, that there are substantially more new editions available of books from the 1910s than from the 2000s. Editions of books that fall under copyright are available in about the same quantities as those from the first half of the 19th century.

Publishers are simply not publishing copyrighted titles unless they are very recent. But this isn’t a totally honest portrait of how many different books are available, because for books that are in the public domain, often many different editions exist, and the random sample is likely to overrepresent them. “After all,” Heald explains, “if one feeds a random ISBN number [into] Amazon, one is more likely to retrieve Milton’s Paradise Lost (with 401 editions and 401 ISBN numbers) than Lorimer’s A Wife out of Egypt (1 edition and 1 ISBN).” He found that on average the public domain titles had a median of four editions per title. (The mean was 16, but highly distorted by the presence of a small number of books with hundreds of editions. For this reason, statisticians whom Heald consulted recommended using the median.) Heald divided the number of public-domain editions by four, providing a graph that compares the number of titles available. titlesavailable650 Heald says the picture is still “quite dramatic.” The most recent decade looks better by comparison, but the depression of the 20th century is still notable, followed by a little boom for the most recent decades when works fall into the public domain. Presumably, as Heald writes, in a market with no copyright distortion, these graphs would show “a fairly smoothly doward sloping curve from the decade 2000-20010 to the decade of 1800-1810 based on the assumption that works generally become less popular as they age (and therefore are less desirable to market).” But that’s not at all what we see. “Instead,” he continues, “the curve declines sharply and quickly, and then rebounds significantly for books currently in the public domain initially published before 1923.” Heald’s conclusion? Copyright “makes books disappear”; its expiration brings them back to life. The books that are the worst affected by this are those from pretty recent decades, such as the 80s and 90s, for which there is presumably the largest gap between what would satisfy some abstract notion of people’s interest and what is actually available. As Heald writes:

This is not a gently sloping downward curve! Publishers seem unwilling to sell their books on Amazon for more than a few years after their initial publication. The data suggest that publishing business models make books disappear fairly shortly after their publication and long before they are scheduled to fall into the public domain. Copyright law then deters their reappearance as long as they are owned. On the left side of the graph before 1920, the decline presents a more gentle time-sensitive downward sloping curve.

But even this chart may understate the effects of copyright, since the comparison assumes that the same quantity of books has been published every decade. This is of course not the case: Increasing literacy coupled with technological efficiencies mean that far more titles are published per year in the 21st century than in the 19th. The exact number per year for the last 200 years is unknown, but Heald and his assistants were able to arrive at a pretty good approximation by relying on the number of titles available for each year in WorldCat, a library catalog that contains the complete listings of 72,000 libraries around the world. He then normalized his graph to the decade of the 1990s, which saw the greatest number of titles published. adjustedtitles650 By this calculation, the effect of copyright appears extreme. Heald says that the WorldCat research showed, for example, that there were eight times as many books published in the 1980s as in the 1880s, but there are roughly as many titles available on Amazon for the two decades. A book published during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur has a greater chance of being in print today than one published during the time of Reagan. Copyright advocates have long (and successfully) argued that keeping books copyrighted assures that owners can make a profit off their intellectual property, and that that profit incentive will “assure [the books’] availability and adequate distribution.” The evidence, it appears, says otherwise.

Further reading: http://artlawjournal.com/can-find-creative-work-copyright-free/

Kids these days

wifiWifi

Okay, just to be serious for a moment: Do you see a difference between these two cartoons?

Some of you may have seen the awesomeness displayed on The Oatmeal in response to people stealing his cartoons and taking his authorship off of the picture. Well, here is another example. The second cartoon was the one I was going to post, but I realised that it didn’t have the creator’s signature on it and it would be good to make sure that they were able to be tracked down. Ideally, I’d link to the original, but that isn’t always possible, especially when someone has decided to edit out the part that would help us all identify the author. It is clear that the author isn’t even asking for money, the cartoon is freely published on the web, yet someone has decided to remove the content creator as though they aren’t important.

Free content is great, so many people with great ideas are creating stuff to entertain others just because they enjoy it. I’m going to try and make sure the authors (content creators) are acknowledged when possible, I hope everyone else does too.