Over the past few years, we’ve had increasing numbers of inquiries about the treatment of electronic books (e-books) within book contracts. While they were traditionally considered subsidiary rights that compensated authors at 50 percent of net sales, many publishers have begun to see them as a windfall, and have tried to get members to accept royalties that were more in line with those for print sales— despite the fact that there’s no printing or shipping cost to e-books, and that e-book transactions are actually licenses rather than sales.
Some major publishers went so far as to try to coerce authors to sign amendments revising the e-book terms on their existing contracts. In response to this, the NWU issued the white paper, E-Book Contract Amendments, in 2010, and a webinar called E-Books and E-Rights: What Authors Need to Know in 2016.
If you ever have questions about book contracts, we hope you’ll turn to our Guide to Book Contracts, which has helped thousands navigate negotiations. Susan E. Davis, our national contract advisor, has just compiled an addendum to it, which draws in part on a 2012 survey that showed that some members:
–didn’t know what e-book rights they had
–didn’t know that their publishers had issued e-books of their works
–or had never signed over e-book rights to a publisher, and therefore were free to market them elsewhere
The addendum contains guidelines for negotiating with your book publisher, seeking a different publisher for your e-book, and self-publishing—all reasonable options. It recommends strategies for renegotiating a contract, with special attention to termination clauses and avoiding the all-too-common reference to rights in all media now existing or “not yet known or developed.” It suggests language that also applies to other subsidiary rights, such as movies and computer games.
If you have a published e-book on the market or are considering publishing one, be sure to download and read the addendum. Contact the GCD at email@example.com with any questions. And, of course, we’re always available to advise you on contracts and contract amendments.
Barbara Mende is the coordinator of the Grievance and Contract Division.