Friday, December 16, 2011

D Publishing: Dymocks' New Self-Pub Service

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, Dymocks, an Australian bookselling chain, announced the launch of D Publishing, a electronic and POD self-publishing service.

Like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Dymocks is a major book vendor. Unlike Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it doesn't have its own ereading device--so D Publishing does not resemble the free, direct-to-device self-pub services offered by Amazon and B&N. Instead, it's more like the middleman self-pub services provided by AuthorHouse and its ilk. For a fee of $499 to $699, you can publish a print book, an ebook, or both (all prices are in Australian dollars). Additional charges for cover creation and setup bring the price as high as $997.

The pricing isn't horrible, by middleman self-pub standards (you can pay much more for a basic package from some services). But there are certainly better deals out there--especially since the only distribution you get is through Dymocks' catalog, Dymocks online, and Google eBooks. Even AuthorHouse et al. do better than that.

But the real problem with D Publishing is its contract, which authors must sign if they want access to an ISBN and what limited distribution Dymocks offers (you can also use D Publishing as a formatter or a printer, in which case the contract isn't required).

With very rare exceptions, self-publishing services' author contracts are nonexclusive, terminable at will, encumber only primary publishing rights, and make no claim on subsidiary rights.

Dymocks' contract, by contrast, is exclusive (all the bolding below is mine):
The scope of the Licence granted to D Publishing is as follows:

(1) sole and exclusive licence to distribution of the Work through the Core Distribution Channels identified from time to time on the Rate Card and Nominated Secondary Distribution Channels;
You cannot terminate the contract unless there is a breach, or unless Dymocks fails to publish:
Either party may by one month’s notice in writing to the other party terminate this Agreement without prejudice to any claims outstanding or any sub-licences properly granted in the event of a breach by the other party of a material term of this Agreement that has not been remedied within 28 days of receiving notice of the breach...

The Author may terminate this Agreement if D Publishing has not published the Work within 28 days of being requested to do so by notice in writing from the Author.
Dymocks, by contrast, can terminate at any time:
D Publishing may, at its discretion and at any time, terminate this Agreement for convenience on giving 30 days’ notice in writing to the Author.
In effect, this is a life-of-copyright contract--for a self-publishing service. And, not content with exclusively locking up your primary publishing rights for an inordinately long period of time, the contract makes a sweeping claim on subsidiary rights as well:
The Author grants to D Publishing a licence...to exercise, including by way of sub-licence, all rights in the Work other than its first volume and electronic publication rights (Subsidiary Rights). Without limiting the preceding, Subsidiary Rights include:

(a) anthology and quotation rights
(b) condensation e.g. magazines, newspapers and ezines
(c) radio and TV straight reading
(d) sound recording
(e) reprint under sub licence
(f) adaptation in other media, including but not limited to internet, apps or other software, collectively, ‘Licence’.
These terms would be a problem if you encountered them in the contract of any small publisher. From a self-publishing service, they are truly awful. And they're just the start. Dymocks can also change the terms of the contract at will. It reserves the right to publish tie-in editions, if a film or other media adaptation is made. The royalty structure is confusing (and, from the looks of it, actual royalties will be low). The payment terms for subsidiary rights sales aren't adequately defined. Royalties are paid and accounted only twice a year. And there's a confidentiality clause that could preclude authors from sharing sales information.

Believe it or not, this is an amended contract. D Publishing withdrew its original contract in response to criticism from the Australian literary community--such as this, from Steve Rossiter of the Australian Literature Review, and this, from contracts expert Alex Adsett. However, according to Rossiter,
The substantive change to the agreement is negligible. The major change has been to bury key details in less direct language and disperse that key information piecemeal across more clauses. This may make key details less obvious to inexperienced authors until they have accepted the agreement but doesn't address the problems.
Will Dymocks heed the continuing criticism and make real changes? Steve Rossiter reports that Michael Allara of D Publishing has promised to release another amended contract in the coming days. Until then, I think that authors would be wise to avoid D Publishing.

EDITED 12/21/11 TO ADD: The D Publishing contract has been taken down (hopefully in preparation for a new and better one), but a PDF of the version I was commenting on above is available here.

EDITED 1/10/12 TO ADD: D Publishing has overhauled and re-posted its publishing agreement. Changes include making the grant of subsidiary rights non-exclusive, and making the contract term 10 years (still much too long--plus, the contract renews automatically unless the author remembers to cancel). Most of the terms I've objected to--including the exclusive grant of primary publishing rights and the confusing royalty structure--remain.

Steve Rossiter agrees that the changes don't go far enough.

21 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

So you pay them to take all your rights? Great deal. Just great.

Bill Peschel said...

These terms would be a deal-breaker under a major publishing house, too. Low, sucky royalty rates? No subsidiary rights to sell? The option of them doing tie-ins without your permission?

Compare that to me publishing my book through Amazon/CreateSpace/Smashwords and paying $330 (to an ebooker converter) and $39 for extended distribution through CreateSpace. Sure, I did the cover, copy, editing and layout, but that's pretty cheap compared with that crew.

Lucy said...

The really awful thing is that some people are going to desperate/ignorant enough to sign this.

Ick.

catdownunder said...

Unfortunately there will be people who take this up - simply because the state of Australian publishing is such that it is almost impossible for new authors to break in and even established authors are having more problems than their overseas counterparts because of other laws surrounding publication, importation, distribution, central buying for libraries etc.
I know North America and the UK have much to be worried about too but there are some uniquely Australian circumstances that may make even this look like a "good deal" for some - not that these things will make it a good deal. It is not.

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm mystified that there isn't more concern within the self-pub community over D Publishing's contract--which really is the absolute worst I've ever seen from a self-pub service. There've been some reactions in Australia, but almost nothing that I can find in the UK or USA.

It's interesting to contrast this lack of general response with the furore over Book Country--which is cheaper, has better distribution, and doesn't pull any fast ones in its Terms and Conditions. Where's Joe Konrath on this one?

Dean K Miller said...

It never hurts to remind ourselves that any publishing project, whether traditional or not, is established for one reason: to make a profit. As much as I want to believe an editor, agent, or publisher believes in my work, the bottom is just that: the bottom line.

As you've clearly demonstrated, always exercise caution when signing anything. The stars in your eyes may block the important view.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Thank you for bringing this to people's attention.

AusLit said...

One thing that came up in a recent discussion I had with Michael Allara, Dymocks General manager of eCommerce, is that he objects to people using the term self-publishing for what they offer.

He distinguished what they do as author-driven traditional publishing. I am personally not going to get into a debate about semantics, because people can see what’s on offer, what’s not and call it whatever they want.

People should however be fully aware of the nature and extent of a license to a publisher/distributor/agent/retailer – or whatever you care to call that cluster of roles – before granting such a license.

If someone fully understands what they are getting into and is happy to do it, then great.

People definitely should not just skim over the agreement thinking they are signing up for something like CreateSpace – which is very flexible, can be terminated by the author at any time for any reason, is a non-exclusive arrangement, and authors retain their rights.

I hope the revised version which apparently should be available soon will clear up the problems. :)

Victoria Strauss said...

AusLit, I hope so too. I also hope the US and UK self-publishing communities will get off their butts and take notice of this.

In my experience--13 years' worth--an obsession with semantics is a hallmark of an organization that wants people to assume it's something other than what it actually is. That's how we wound up with the terms "co-op publisher" and "partner publisher" to describe what were really just old-fashioned vanity operations. I am always concerned when an organization comes up with a fancy way of characterizing what it's doing, when perfectly adequate--if perhaps not totally stigma-free--terminology already exists.

In any case, a fancy name is no excuse for a bad contract. I'd be concerned about these contract terms if I encountered them in the contract of any publisher--no matter what it called itself.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I know what I usually call 'author-driven traditional publishing'.

This isn't a self-publishing service...it's a vanity press.

Let's call a spade a spade.

Morgen said...

It's likely that the reason there isn't more uproar over this contract is that so few outside AU know about it. Thank you for bringing this to light. Even Australian authors can publish through CreateSpace/Amazon and get a better deal. It seems that the Aussies feel isolated and don't realize that there are other options. Maybe that's something we can all work toward - an international standard for all authors.

Doug Brunell said...

All that contracts says to me is, "Stay away." And that is what I am going to do.

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

My lack of furor was ignorance. Jessica Meigs just posted it over on one of our groups.

It's an obscene contract and makes Book Country's rip-off look tame by comparison. No one should sign it.

Of course, the lack of furor in the community is because these guys are much less well known than Penguin.

David Gaughran said...

This is pretty awful. I had heard they were launching a self-publishing service of some sort, but I had never checked the details.

As to why there isn't a greater furore over this, I can't speak for everyone, but my guess would be that the furore is directly related to how many self-publishers may fall for it. What I mean is, a lot more writers are going to fall for a rip-off service from Penguin than from Dymocks, so self-publishers probably felt a lot more noise was necessary to steer writers away (and to counteract the ridiculous articles plastered all over the mainstream media, e.g. The Guardian: "Get published with Penguin for $99" etc.).

Thanks for sharing the details of this awful contract and service.

AusLit said...

The following article, featuring an interview with me, went up on the book blog of Australian news outlet Crikey today:

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/liticism/2011/12/21/authors-beware-interview-with-steve-rossiter/

Victoria Strauss said...

Adding linkage to the Steve Rossiter interview, in which he discusses his talks with D Publishing senior management.

BuffySquirrel said...

I know authors in Australia who are very frustrated by the lack of opportunities there. Most are trying to find agents and/or publishers abroad.

AusLit said...

Hi BuffySquirrel,

The shortage of good opportunities in Australia is something I would also like to see change.

If anyone reading this is interesting in building some mutually beneficial links between Australian fiction writers and international fiction writers, let me know and maybe we can work something out.

I am actively working to set up opportunities for fiction writers in Australia, with the aim of helping them develop as world class writers and equipping them with the skills to make their own opportunities.

I should have an article online by the end of the month on low/no cost publishing options globally for writers in Australia to spread the word about some of the better options out there and how they work.

I'll be running a 20 week Novel Manuscript Development Program in Feb-Jun 2012, with guest novelists workshopping with the writers, plus Random House and HarperCollins publishers in Australia willing to look at outlines and samples from the novels developed in that program.

I'll be running workshops at the Tropical Wrtiters' Festival in Cairns in September 2012.

I released a short story anthology in the past 24 hours, discussed by one of the authors at http://auslit.net/2011/12/23/gordon-reece-author-interview-ho-ho-ho, and I have a short story anthology due for release at least every two months, featuring a brod range of Australian authors, from the relatively unknown to well-established authors.

I will also be working closely with two promising authors to help them each develop their first novel and establish themselves as standout novelists.

PS: D Publishing put their new publishing agreement up in the past 24 hours and my response is at http://auslit.net/2011/12/23/​dymocks-d-publishing-an-opportu​nity-being-wasted/

. said...

I don't think Australia lacks writing talent...it just lacks literary agents and publishing companies within Oz.
Check out how few agents there are on the Australian Literary Agents website.
Check out how few major publishing companies we have in Oz.
Then go compare the above to the number of literary agents and major publishing houses in the USA and the UK.
I've got a SF novel optioned with a major UK publisher even as I write this. I couldn't get an agent or a publisher within Australia interested. After the third or fourth knock back I just shrugged and sent my story to the UK publisher. There's no guarantee they are going to publish it, but at least they are looking at it.
Having writing workshops to attend is great, but having more agents and publishers is the real road to getting published, and Oz just doesn't have as many as the USA and the UK.
The literary scene in Oz is very small compared to overseas.

catdownunder said...

I have to agree that Australia lacks literary agents. There are some but not enough, especially for a widespread population. The most reputable are generally unable to take on new clients.
I do not know whether it is true or not but I have also been told that, in order to have an Australian agent, you need to be writing at least some "Australian literature set in Australia".

Yves said...

they should check out www.LeanPub.com
that company offers a way that user can convert text to pdf, kindle and epub for free.
And they sell it online but you can take the book everywere at no cost.
The service is really created for people who want to prepublish while writing.