Writers in Womagland (those who write short stories or serials for the women’s magazine market) have been venting their anger and frustration on social media recently. Woman’s Weekly magazine has changed its contract terms and payment rates. Those who have received an acceptance email in the last week or so have been told that the magazine is now seeking All Rights (including copyright) in their short stories and the payments are being reduced.
This has serious consequences for every writer submitting to them, but even further implications for the many writers who earn their living from this market.
Firstly, if a publication takes ALL RIGHTS, then you have nothing left to exploit. You cannot use your story anywhere else, not even on your own blog or website. Many womag writers supplement their income by collecting their published stories together into anthologies and self-publishing them on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc. If ALL RIGHTS/copyright have been signed away they can’t do that.
There’s also an issue with secondary rights, often claimed through ALCS, where writers can register work of theirs that has been published and is available for photocopying. In theory, if you’ve signed away all rights then you have no right to any secondary right income either. (ALCS has been asked to investigate and check this, although initial enquiries with Woman’s Weekly have hinted that they won’t object to writers claiming this money. For legal purposes, and clarity, it would be better if the contract stipulated this. Perhaps it may be changed to reflect this.)
Those of us who’ve been around a few years now (pass me my zimmer frame) have often commented how the womag fiction market has shrunk. These changes make earning a decent income from the remaining markets near impossible.
Womag fiction is a different beast to non-fiction. With non-fiction, it’s easier to rewrite some facts, create a new article and sell it again. There are no facts in fiction, therefore, fiction requires a different contract.
Of course, this is not a decision being taken by the editor, but far higher up the organisation. The editor is the poor soul who has to implement the change in policy.
My personal view is that there’s more consolidation to come in the magazine industry. Publishing companies are not national – they’re global. They need a lot of content to fill a gazillion pages in magazines across the world, and the English language is one of the common languages across the world. If a publisher buys all rights in a short story from a UK writer, it owns it and can do what it likes with it – such as offering that content to any, or all, of it’s other English-language publications anywhere in the world. (And, technically, it also has the right to translate it for all of its non-English language publications too.)
I can see the decisions editors may find themselves in soon (if they’re not already facing it now!). Do they buy a new short story from a writer in the UK for £100, which means the two pages the story will use will have cost the magazine £100? Or do they dip into their publishing company’s huge pot of other writers’ content that they’ve already purchased all rights in and fill those two pages with this content that doesn’t cost the magazine anything more?
These changes at Woman’s Weekly are highlighting how risky being reliant on a handful of customers for your business can be. That’s what’s scaring many writers. Survival. And as this article by Philip Pullman in The Guardian shows, writers’ incomes are definitely falling.
All businesses have to adapt to survive and that includes writers. Because writing is a business. But as a result of this contract change there are some damn good short story writers out there who are questioning their financial ability to continue writing short stories, even if they succumb and sign the contract.
And this fails everybody. It fails the magazine, because they lose their best writers. Without the best writers they’ll lose readers. Without readers they’ll lose advertising income. Without darn good short story writers whose work regularly appears in their pages, there’s no one for budding writers to aspire to and look up to. So where does the next generation of darn good short story writers come from? Where’s their incentive to become a writer in the first place if their creativity will not be valued?
So what can you do?
- If you receive the new contract, and you don’t like it, go back to the editor and ask for changes. You’ll probably be told to take it or leave it, but the more writers who speak with one voice, the better. (Take your time deciding too. Don’t rush.)
- Some writers are writing to the owners of Woman’s Weekly to seek a change in the decision by the senior management of TI Media. (Email Marcus Rich – Marcus.Rich@ti-media.com ) Remember to remain business-like when you argue your points.
- Members of the Society of Authors who’ve been published by Woman’s Weekly are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org to share their thoughts (as per the instruction in this tweet by @CarolBevitt).
- While you’re on Twitter, keep an eye on the #WomagWritersNeedRights for the latest news.
- Spread the word with other writers, particularly new writers who might not understand the contract, or the importance of retaining their rights. The more writers who refuse to accept this contract, the greater the chance of negotiating some change.
- Check the excellent Womagwriter blog for regular updates.
Sometimes a ground swell of opinion can change things. Never be pressurised into signing a contract you don’t like. To paraphrase a Brexiteer slogan, no contract is better than a bad contract.