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Friday, 8 March 2013

Random House V Science Fiction Writers of America

It seems odd that a society representing authors of speculative fiction should be so backward thinking but  last  Wednesday the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) blasted Random House and their new eImprint, Hydra,  with its president saying that it would not allow authors publishing with Random House's eBook science fiction imprint Hydra to use that achievement as a credential for membership.(The SFWA said the main reason for its decision is that Hydra "fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.")

Random House responded to the blog posts by saying -  "Hydra offers a different--but potentially lucrative--publishing model for authors: a profit share.As with every business partnership, there are specific costs associated with bringing a book successfully to market, and we state them very straightforwardly and transparently in our author agreements." Random House's digital publishing director Allison Dobson

Random House sent a letter to the SFWA and the full letter follows:

Dear John, Victoria, Jaym and SFWA Members,

We read with interest your posts today about the new Random House digital imprints and our business model. While we respect your position, you’ll not be surprised to learn that we strongly disagree with it, and wish you had contacted us before you published your posts. We would appreciate you giving us an opportunity to share why we believe Hydra is an excellent publishing opportunity for the science fiction community by posting ours below to them.

Hydra offers a different-- but potentially lucrative--publishing model for authors: a profit share. In the more traditional advance- plus-royalty model, the publisher takes all the financial risk up front, and recoups the advance before the author earns any cash royalties. With a profit-share model, there is no advance. Instead, the author and publisher share equally in the profits from each and every sale. In effect, we partner with the author for each book.

As with every business partnership, there are specific costs associated with bringing a book successfully to market, and we state them very straightforwardly and transparently in our author agreements. These costs could be much higher--and certainly be more stressful and labor-intensive to undertake--for an author with a self-publishing model. Profits are generated once those costs are subtracted from the sales revenue. Hydra and the author split those profits equally from the very first sale.

When we acquire a title in the Hydra program, it is an all-encompassing collaboration. Our authors provide the storytelling, and we at Hydra support their creativity with best-in-class services throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing and production, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to Random House coop and merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best science fiction, fantasy and horror books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.

As a last point to the SFWA leadership, my colleagues and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss the advantages of the Hydra business model, describe the program overall, and respond to any of your expressed concerns. Please let me know a good time for us to set up this meeting.

Many thanks and all the best,
Allison Dobson

Allison R. Dobson
V.P., Digital Publishing Director
Random House Publishing Group
212-782-1073 (office)


Davieboy said...

Hi Gary,
I'm gonna bang on about "Wool" the sci-fi novel again - there's an article in the Wall St. Journal today that's right up your street, about how author Hugh Howey has bucked the trend and made a TON of money by self-publishing & then striking a "hybrid" deal with Simon & Schuster.
Trust me, do read the article please, you'll enjoy it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

You are persuasive - just bought from Amazon. The article was interesting and I'd like to write about this guy soon - Want to do a guest review Davie me old mucker?

Davieboy said...

Thanks for the trust, I'll leave the review to "The Digital Man" if you don't mind!
Suffice it to say that it's a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story wrapped around strong elements of the detective novel. A strong female protagonist a la Ripley from Alien (so it's fitting that Ridley Scott is on board for the movie). Plus he's taken a cue from GRRM so you never know who's safe...
Part one of a projected trilogy, next novel "Shift" out soon. Each novel consists of several short stories, each previously self-published as e-books in advance. He's a fast writer apparently so we'll get to the end soon and he absolutely promises to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner.

Loyd Jenkins said...

I have enjoyed your thoughts and experiences for a few years now, but this post makes me wonder what you are thinking. Or have you not looked at the issue at hand.

First, SFWA does not allow any novel published without an advance count for eligibility. Hydra does not give an advance, therefore they don't count.

Second, Hydra charges up front for art, marketing, etc. That is not bad, but they are charging with a limit of 10%. A percentage? If they were printing books I might see this, but Hydra produces e-books. For all their expertise, they want to charge the writer up front. You have more experience than I do. Is their expertise worth a percentage?

They want all rights, primary and subsidiary. ALL rights? Who are they concerned about, the author or the company?

And then they give you 50% royalty. Is their marketing skills so great that they earn half of the after cost income from the book?

And how long do these contracts last. The length of the copyright, or until the quit leaving the book for sale on a website somewhere.

If you can't see why SFWA decided that Hydra “has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable”, I don't know what to say. I disagree that this is backward looking.

Having said all this, I feel that you just don't know everything involved. Check it out. And keep up your own writing. Being from Arkansas, how can I not love a character named Arkansas Smith?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Lloyd - I agree with the SFWA on their objections to the Random House deal, but at the same time if an author believes in his/her work to the extent of meeting Hydra's demands then I see no reason for them not to have membership of the SFWA. Yes the terms are unfair but by denying membership of the organization because of less than fair terms from a publisher is punishing the writer and not the publisher.

Thought I do hope the Archive article was impartial other than my line about being backward looking.

Thanks for you comment - I do like it when debate gets going. Oh and Arkansas Smith sends his regards

Loyd Jenkins said...

You have a point. Thanks for answering me. And regards, from one Arkie to another.