Five ways to boost Australian writers’ earnings

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

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.

The book business: 2012 vs 2008

There are some interesting claims being levelled in the publishing industry about the death of books (rubbish), that publishers are going broke (only if they messed up) and that the industry is in turmoil (only when scaremongers keep saying it is). Well, the infographic below highlights some statistics on the US book industry – I think I’m going to stop calling it the publishing industry, maybe reading industry is more appropriate. The final figure is the one that everyone should quote the next time a smaller or non-existent advance is offered to authors, or royalty rates are lowered, or high book prices are justified.

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Source: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114998/book-business-doing-fine

The Myth of Writer’s Block

Okay, so today I was going to dedicate a post to The Doctor and the 50 year thing, but I got side tracked with watching old episodes and this wonderful video. So instead I’m posting this interesting take on Writer’s Block by Amanda Patterson from Writers Write (original here). As per usual, my comments are in blue.

If you write one page a day you will complete a 365-page novel in a year. TA: Or 500 words a day is 182,500 words or two novels (one if you are writing fantasy, or got carried away).

You are crippling yourself by not starting to write. If it seems an overwhelming task to write a whole book, start with an opening paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. Your first sentence is the first step to being published. TA: Remember, you don’t have to start at the beginning, you can just write down the ideas you’ve had, then link them, or turn the ideas into proper sentences and paragraphs.

Most people who want to write have the belief in their creative success systematically driven out of them – by the business world, by their family, their ‘friends’ and their life experiences. TA: But don’t worry, they’ll be the first ones queuing up for a free copy of your book when it’s published. Tell them you’re busy!

If you were told you were going to die tomorrow, would you regret not having written? TA: Always good to write down the list of people trying to kill you, helps the cops no end.

These are the five most common excuses we hear at Writers Write.

  1. Family:  I have children. I’m the family taxi. I have to be there for my husband/wife. TA: Kids are there to steal your dreams and youth.
  2. Work:  I work long hours. I’m too tired after a day at the office. I have to work overtime so that we can afford a new car / bigger house. TA: Working on someone else’s dream, not yours.
  3. Time:  I’m too busy. I’ll do it tomorrow / next month / next year. I can’t write late at night / early in the morning. TA: Everyone gets 24 hours – well in a solar day at least, 23hrs 56mins in a stellar day – use them wisely!
  4. General:  I’m not inspired. I’m too old/young. I’m too tired/depressed/sick. TA: Seriously? Then just read the books others write.
  5. Our Favourite:  It’s not what you know but who you know in publishing. TA: Publishing isn’t writing, nor is it reading, nor is it the reason you write. Besides, Snookie “wrote” a book; publishers will publish all sorts of trash.

You can have your book or you can have your excuses. You can’t have both. !!!

All of the above are obviously important but don’t fool yourself, writers write; pretenders to the throne make excuses. The reasons for not writing are laziness and lack of self-discipline. TA: Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.

Do you really want to become a writer?

Writing is lonely. Writing is hard work. Writing is discipline. There is no quick fix and there is no one to applaud or to criticize you. You will be your own boss and you will have to motivate and reward yourself. And after all of this you will face the possibility of rejection – the dedicated writer will not stop here.

Remember: You have permission to write badly. (In your first drafts, of course TA: or if your name is Stephanie Meyer or EL James, all your drafts and finished work are written badly)

Follow @Writers_Write

See also: http://sdwriters.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/how-to-sneak-around-writer%E2%80%99s-block/