Times have changed in the book world, but the “standard” publishing contract has not kept up with the times. Today's standard book contract is filled with terms, conditions, and language that would be recognizable to authors of a century ago, a remnant of a bygone era when e-books, print-on-demand, deep pricing discounts, and online booksellers weren’t even a gleam in the eye. At the same time, new overreaching clauses have been added to insulate the publishers from any potential loss, placing all risk on the author. Yet today’s authors are often asked to sign these standard agreements “no questions asked,” and if they question author-unfriendly terms, they are often told the clauses are “not negotiable.”
In April 2015, the Authors Guild conducted its first major member survey since 2009. Our findings suggest that full-time and part-time U.S. authors have experienced a significant decrease in writing income over the last five years. While there are many reasons for this decline in income, unfair terms in publishing agreements don’t help.
So in May 2015 we launched the Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative to take a fresh look at the standard book contract. Our guiding concept for this initiative has been to restore contractual balance to the author-publisher relationship and help authors achieve a fair return for the efforts they contribute to the joint venture of book publication. To that end, we’ve published a series of articles—you can find them on this page—demonstrating how antiquated and unfair the terms of many publishers’ standard book agreements have become. The principles behind the individual installments are outlined in the chart below.
In January 2016, we released an open letter to U.S. publishers informing them that we’ll be seeking individual meetings with publishers large and small to discuss the substance of our articles and how we can work together to make the publishing industry more fair and profitable for authors. We’ve begun holding those meetings, and we believe that this direct dialogue will lead to real change in publishers’ standard contracts.
Have questions about your book contract? Our lawyers are available to help members navigate their publishing contracts. Learn more.