A Digital Picket Line: The Authors Guild Would Like Your Attention

Image - iStockphoto: gashgeron
Image – iStockphoto: gashgeron

‘Authors Are More Vulnerable To Exploitation Than Ever’

 London-based publisher Michael Bhaskar has called digitally empowered readers “the power brokers who matter most” in publishing today.

While that kind of commentary refers to the industry’s efforts to strike a more direct-to-consumer stance with a curatorial audience, there are other ways in which readers soon may begin to broker power.

A readership drawing closer to its authors might start to care more about those people than they have in the past. It’s not that readers didn’t like their authors, it’s just that in previous decades, there was comparatively little contact. Readers knew little if anything about the relationships between their favorite writers and the great publishing houses that proudly produced their books.

The digital dynamic has changed that. And the Authors Guild is ready to take its case for contract reform directly to those readers.

[pullquote]“Basically, we want to get people re-thinking what contracts should look like.”
— Mary Rasenberger, Authors Guild[/pullquote]

This week, deep in publishing’s digital transformation, the author-advocacy efforts of the Guild are being coordinated behind a new campaign that asks whether publishing’s contract traditions may not be more hidebound than their oldest books. On Friday (12th June), the Guild plans to post a new article on its revamped Web site explaining more about its plans to address, one issue after the next, the typical contract points with which its leadership maintains that publishers do authors many disservices.

We want to do just that. We want to raise these issues in a very public way so there’s an open dialogue on them.

Mary Rasenberger
Mary Rasenberger

Mary Rasenberger is six months into her tenure as the Authors Guild’s executive director. A former partner at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard, she has counseled companies in the publishing, media, entertainment, and Internet sectors, and makes a specialization of copyright and related rights. More than 25 years into her career in law, she has taken her seat at the Guild as a potentially formidable sparring partner with publishers whose contracts are coming under heavier criticism, seemingly by the day.

The outcry is growing louder on both sides of the Atlantic.

In an opinion piece last month at The Bookseller in London, the literary agent who uses the pen name “Agent Orange” (because he or she fears that being known could cause repercussions for author-clients) wrote:

The publishing industry exists to connect the creative talents of authors to a market. The Internet was supposed to streamline the business, get rid of the middle man, and put more money into authors’ pockets. That was always a dangerously simplistic point of view. What we couldn’t have predicted is that it would create a world in which authors are more vulnerable to exploitation than ever. There’s a really strong case for authors to come out on strike and remind everyone in this business exactly where the value in it resides.

It won’t happen, of course. But it should.

In Agent Orange’s UK market, the typical income for a professional author in 2013 has been reported to be only some £11,000 in 2013, roughly $17,000, a plunge of 40 percent since 2005. That news is tremendously controversial in London, the Society of Authors having issued a damning statement to remind publishers that “authors are the one person 100-percent necessary” to the world of books.

And now, a new Guild survey in preliminary results indicates that many American authors’ median incomes are running even lower than that:

  • Full-time and part-time authors, taken together, are reporting that their median income from their writing is only $8,000 per year — a 24-percent drop in five years.
  • For full-time authors, the median is now at $17,500, down 30 percent in those same five years.
  • Writers who have been in the field for between 25 and 40 years are seeing the biggest drop: from $28,750 to only $9,500.

The author whose mystery series you like so much? Or whose new romance books you look forward to? Or whose literary landmarks may be pulling in the most revered awards of all and topping your beach reads this summer? — That author could be living hand-to-mouth, Rasenberger says.

And she says it’s time that readers know these things.


Writers traditionally negotiate their contracts in privacy. Their terms are particularly private. They don’t share them. It’s not like they’ve got a labor union. We don’t have the ability to have a union because these are rights-of-license that an author grants to a publisher. Authors are not employees [of the publishers]. This is not like the Screen Writers Guild, where everything is done as work made for hire — they can negotiate terms on behalf of the members of their union or guild. We don’t have that ability.

So how do we move the bar for contracts?

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:  A Digital Picket Line: The Authors Guild Would Like Your Attention

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com



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