Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- FieldReport: Yet Another Update

Back in June, I blogged about the then brand-new website FieldReport, whose contest for true-life stories offered significant money prizes, but also involved significantly unfavorable terms in its submission agreement and contest rules.

FieldReport later modified its submission agreement and contest rules, getting rid of many of the terms I objected to and making things somewhat more fair and author-friendly. There were still some issues, though--as I noted in a followup post. A dialog with FR CEO Will Petty ensued in the comments section. Eventually, FR implemented still more changes to its submission agreement, getting rid of one of the conditions that I felt was most unfair--the requirement that authors pay a 25% commission to FR on any third-party sales of their FR articles, if those sales were made by them--and making it clear that FR's definition of "derivative work" did not include the re-use of FR articles or material in memoirs or autobiographies.

FR's current submission agreement and contest rules now represent what I think is a reasonable balance between authors' rights and FR's interests. That's not to say that FR contributors shouldn't carefully read the fine print--they need to be aware, for instance, that rights to contest entries are exclusively granted to FR for a term of between 18 months (if winnings are less than $5,000) to 14 years (if winnings are $100,000 or more), and that even once the term expires, FR's basic site license (which applies to all content submitted to the site, and gives FR the right to create and sell print and electronic publications containing the content) remains in force. But the problems that so disturbed me--the unclear language, the demand for copyright, the 25% commission, the iron grip on derivative works--are all gone.

While it does seem that the discussion on this blog played a part in spurring the changes, much credit must go to Mr. Petty and other FR staff for being willing to listen and to compromise.

FieldReport has been the subject of recent articles in the Telegraph, Time, and the San Francisco Chronicle--which reveal that it has encountered a great deal of suspicion because of the very large prizes it's offering. Could such a contest possibly be for real? Where was the money coming from? Most of all--what was in it for FR? If you were curious about this (I know I was), the SF Chronicle article provides some answers:

Petty explained a "three and a half point" business model for turning the prize money (which comes from investors) into profit. The first component is advertising, which he expects to generate a third of the company's revenue; second is a self-publishing service that FieldReport plans to offer next year, which would allow users to compile books from content on the site - their own or others' stories - and then buy copies of those anthologies directly from FieldReport. Enterprising members could also opt to sell these anthologies (splitting any proceeds with the writers included in their selection).

The third part of the company's business plan is a "perpetual trust" that Petty said will allow users - for a $20 fee - to archive "the stories of their lives as a kind of legacy." This digital storage service has been created independent of FieldReport, so that it will survive regardless of FieldReport's long-term success as a business. The data would be publicly accessible so that, Petty said, "your great-grandchildren could conceivably look up your account (or whatever parts of that account you chose to make available to them) after you die."

The half-point in Petty's business model is a plan to expand FieldReport's ranking system to other genres of writing, including novels.


...for which the rights issues would be rather different. I'll be interested to see what kind of terms are offered if FR does indeed expand in this direction.

FR has given away $90,000 of prize money already, and is counting down to the grand prize of $250,000, to be awarded on February 15, 2009.

6 comments:

FieldReport said...

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for this post, and for recognizing the efforts we've expended to make our submission agreement work for everyone.

We are currently working on a new iteration of the agreement that is even more author friendly. We'll let you know about it when it goes up.

Very best,

Will Petty, FieldReport

A Concerned Writer said...

So, what's truly up with the new goings on at Fieldreport.com? (copied from the site on 1-7-09)

FieldReport Is Under Construction

UPDATE: December 18, 2008

Since the site went down 10 days ago, we have really been overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy and support we've recieved from so many of you. I can't tell you how much this means to us here at FieldReport as we work to put ourselves back on track. We're now in the process of looking at our technical options moving forward, and are trying to see the silver lining in this experience as an opportunity to take a breath and make FieldReport better than it was before.

If you've enjoyed using FieldReport and have ideas for making it into an richer site and community, I'd love to hear about them. You can write me at williampetty@fieldreport.com

Meanwhile, I'd like to answer a few questions I've been hearing from people who've written to us:

1. Does our previously published December 31 deadline mean anything now? No, all deadlines will have to be pushed back, and we don't know what the new ones will be yet. We're not going to announce any new deadlines until we're sure we can deliver.

2. Will we still be delivering on our prizes? We see these prizes as a covenant we've made with our members, and we're committed to picking up pretty much where we left off when the site comes back.

3. Can I join or submit work to FieldReport before the site comes back up? Unfortunately, we don't have any way of accepting stories or new members right now. Keep checking back, and when the site comes up, we'll be happy to welcome you.

If you have other questions, feel free to send them my way.

Happy holidays to you and your families,

Will


Is this true or the websites swan song?

A concerned writer and hesitant contributor at fieldreport.com

Victoria Strauss said...

I honestly don't know what's going on with FieldReport right now--I'm keeping my ear to the ground but I'm not hearing anything. I hope it's just as they say, a technical problem, but I can't help fearing that it's more than that.

A Concerned Writer said...

I thought my research on them would at least put faces to the names, and gives us some more info for anyone interested. Please come up with your own conclusions from my research. I've left notes here and there.

In 2005 they opened up a shojin restaurant in San Francisco, called Medicine (for short - this may have been mentioned on FR.com in the "about us" section. I can't verify that due to the state of the website, but they have never denied they are, and I see no reason they should or would). Links:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_2972028

http://www.restaurantwhore.com/2005/10/doctors-orders-medicine-eatstation-san.html
(This one is hilarious to read)

http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2006/02/01/take-5-with-will-petty/
(this one has a picture of Will Petty)

I found them on Facebook. I can't be totally sure it's them, but they are listed as each others friend, and list FR.com:

http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Petty/708700278

http://www.facebook.com/people/Skye-Thompson/584134142
(I made the mistake of assuming Skye was female, probably because Skye is the middle name of one of my daughters.)

An interview with the 22k beta winner and with Will and Skye (so now we have voices to go with the names and pictures, lol):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge0aSb9Tcs4

Based on the facebook picture and SF location, this looks like the same Skye Thompson, but I can't be positive:

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/4/b84/675


MORE misc. links:

http://www.litquake.org/jack-blog/sf-still-beat-magnet-more-online-lit-bin-laden-and-uc-davis/

http://www.storysaac.org/Storylines/StorylineFall08.pdf
(This has some of the same FR.com info from press releases, but has some new insight, too.)

A Concerned Writer said...

Looks like FR is back online.

While it hasn't announced it officially, I was able to log in to my account and check my reports' standings :-)

Anonymous said...

Field Report never did give away its next round of prizes, including the $250,000 grand prize. From what I gather, they weren't making the money they expected and used the death of a colleague's family member as an excuse to shut down operations. Would love an update on what happened.