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.