Friday, May 24, 2013

DC Thomson: Me, The Society of Authors, and a DC Thomson Editor.


Firstly, I normally schedule my posts to appear on a Monday morning, but the subject of this post is topical, and rather than delay this until Monday, I felt it better to post it earlier than planned.

Secondly, because of the subject matter of this post, it is much (add about another 20 much-es) longer than my usual posts, so I warn you now … go and get a cup of tea, or coffee, make yourself comfortable, and then take your time to read through this.

Thirdly, I am a writer, not a solicitor, so none of what appears here constitutes legal advice. Got that?

Right. Ready? Here goes … (you did go and get that cup of tea, or coffee, didn’t you?)

There has been a lot of chatter on the Internet, and on Facebook, and other social networking sites, about the new DC Thomson contract. As mentioned in last week’s post, (http://simonwhaleytutor.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/comprehend-contract.html) whenever a writer is faced with a contract, which they don’t understand, always get professional advice. Twenty-four hours after my post went live, the postman delivered my new DC Thomson contract! So, as a member of the Society of Authors I asked them to clarify a few points for me. (I asked them nicely, because this is not a book contract, which is what the Society is used to looking at but, bless them, they obliged.) 

I received their reply on Wednesday, and they raised a few points. My DC Thomson contract was sent to me by the editor Angela Gilchrist at The People’s Friend (I have had both fiction, and non-fiction published by The People’s Friend). Angela’s letter finished by stating that if I had any queries, I was to get in touch. I therefore put those queries the Society of Authors raised to Angela, and she responded less than 24 hours later.

First Rights
Clause 1 of the contract says that DC Thomson want: The exclusive right to first publication in any Media (as defined below), in any language, anywhere in the world in any of the Company’s Products at the Company’s discretion.

At first, I, like many other writers, wondered if DC Thomson were asking for First World Rights (meaning they wanted the right to be the first to publish the content in every country in the world). After re-reading the clause several times (each time slower than the time before, and enunciating every syllable, because, for some reason, doing so seems to improve comprehension), I came to the conclusion that what they are asking for is the right to be the first, anywhere in the world, to publish the material. In other words, once DC Thomson have published the text (thus being the first in the world to publish it), a writer is then free to offer the same text to other publications in other countries. I asked the Society of Authors to clarify this.

The Society of Authors said: After first publication, yes you have the right to reuse the material elsewhere as you please (subject to Clause 8).

(Clause 8 of the contract asks for the right of first refusal to publish a collection of works in book form.)

This means that a writer who has sold DC Thomson a short story, or article, which DC Thomson has subsequently published, is entitled to offer that article or short story to other publications around the world.

To ensure I understood this correctly, I asked Angela Gilchrist the following: (please also note that Angela ran my queries past the DC Thomson legal team, before responding to me)

I said: “The Society of Authors assumed (but have suggested I double-check with you to clarify) that this clause means DC Thomson want to be the first in the world to publish the writer’s work (in any format). Once the work has been published by DC Thomson (in any format), the writer is then free to offer the work elsewhere in the world. 

For example, if The People’s Friend accepts a short story I’ve written, I can’t sell that same short story to any other magazine in any other country, until DC Thomson have published it. Once it has been published, I’m free to offer it elsewhere. Is this correct?”

Angela Gilchrist replied: “Yes, this is correct.”

The Timescale To Publication
I was worried by one element of this … the fact that the clause gave no guarantee that DC Thomson would publish within a set period of time. If a writer can’t sell to other markets until DC Thomson has published the text, then that could cause problems. DC Thomson could simply stockpile material.

It was something I’d asked the Society of Authors, who confirmed the contract stipulates no timescale to publish.

The reason I was worried about this is because I have experience of this with DC Thomson. The People’s Friend accepted a travel feature from me in May 2005, which they did not publish until August 2011 - more than six years later. Clearly, as someone who sells material all over the world, I can’t put a lot of material ‘on hold’ for up to six years.

When I asked Angela Gilchrist about this, she responded as follows:

“We can’t promise to publish within a particular time frame. However, what I can say is that it is highly unlikely that the scenario you outline above would ever occur now. In the four years that I’ve been editor, I’ve drastically cut the amount of editorial stock held by the magazine and promoted much tighter turn-arounds between purchase and publication. With travel features, we are almost always able to tell the author at the time of purchase which issue the article is scheduled to appear in. We’re always happy to answer questions from contributors, so if ever you need to know a publication date and we haven’t supplied you with one, just get in touch and we’ll do our best to help.”

I have only had a ‘six-year’ wait once - other material has been used much more quickly, and so I believe Angela’s comments are genuine. (Indeed, my experience of purchase-to-publication with The Weekly News has been a matter of weeks in practically all cases.)

Practical Implications*
(*This is a bonus section that I decided to add after sleeping on my thoughts overnight.)

This ‘first in the world to publish’ clause does have practical implications on the way a writer might operate. I know there are many writers who (particularly with short stories) submit their work to the highest payer first, and then work their way down the list. And most people are aware that DC Thomson are towards the bottom end of that list.

You could argue that if everyone on that list above DC Thomson has rejected your story, then by the time you approach DC Thomson, their requirement to be the first to publish, isn’t such a big issue. However, it is, because if you’ve also been sending off stories to other countries at the same time, and subsequently sold some rights to your story in another country - which has then been published, then you’re no longer able to submit your story to DC Thomson, because it will break their ‘we want to be the first in the world to publish this’ clause. In this scenario, DC Thomson’s own contract prevents you from offering them your work in the first place.

In some ways, I think this clause has bigger consequences for writers who are not based in the UK. Those writers need to think about this carefully, because if they sign up to the contract and decide to submit a particular piece of work to DC Thomson, this contract forces them to submit that piece to DC Thomson first, before they even submit to magazines in their own countries. Only when DC Thomson has accepted and published their work (or rejected it), can they then begin to offer the work in their home country and other countries around the world. This may be a problem for some writers. For others, it may not.

This also has implications for UK-based writers too. There have been several times when I’ve sent my stories across the world and sold foreign rights before I’ve successfully sold UK rights. If I signed this contract and subsequently sold foreign rights to a story first, then I wouldn’t be able to submit that same story to DC Thomson. 

Whatever you decide to do, what this contract does mean is that it’s becoming increasingly more important that writers maintain accurate, and detailed, records of the rights they’ve sold in their work, and where they’ve sent work to. I have written on this subject, in the past, and you can read the article on the sort of information to record, on the Ezee Writer website: http://www.writersbureau.com/e-zee-writer/november-2012/page3.htm


(Okay, if you’ve got this far, you’re doing well. You might want to get up and stretch your legs at this point, before continuing!)

Selling Work Abroad
The Society of Authors picked up in the contract that Clause 2 might prevent writers from offering First Rights in other countries. First, let’s look at Clause 2:

Clause 2 states: Following the Company’s first use as described in point 1 above, the non-exclusive, transferable right to reuse, republish and retransmit your Contribution in any Media, in any language, anywhere in the world, in any of the DCT Group’s Products and at the DCT Group’s discretion and without further payment to you.

The scenario the Society of Authors envisaged was this: Imagine you sold a short story to DC Thomson, and one of their UK publications published it. According to this contract you are now free to offer your material elsewhere, such as to an Australian publication, for example. Normal procedure would be for the writer to offer the Australian publication First Australian Serial Rights - the right to be the first Australian publication to publish your story. However, if DC Thomson also happened to own an Australian publication, Clause 2 would enable them to ‘reuse’ your short story at no extra payment in the Australian publication. If this were to happen, then a writer could no longer offer First Australian Serial Rights … if the DC Thomson Australian publication had been first to publish the text in Australia. (There are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in that sentence - you could still sell First Australian Serial Rights, if DC Thomson didn’t re-use your work in their Australian publication.)

(Don’t explode just yet - bear with me on this one.)

I put this to Angela Gilchrist and asked if my interpretation was correct. (Remember, she ran my queries by the DC Thomson legal team.) Angela said, “This interpretation is correct.

Right, now just because I have interpreted this correctly, that doesn’t mean that the world is going to end! 

Having looked at the DC Thomson website, at the moment I can only find references to UK-based publications. That doesn’t mean to say that DC Thomson don’t own any foreign publications, but, so far, I haven’t found any. They may well own foreign publications. [There is a page on Wikipedia listing DC Thomson & Co publications, but I leave it up to you as to whether you rely on a Wikipedia webpage as being an authoritative, definitive list ;-) ] 

But the point I want to make is this: If DC Thomson doesn’t own an Australian publication, then Clause 2’s right to reuse your material in any publication, anywhere in the world, won’t take away your First Australian Serial Rights, as I’ve exampled (is that a word?) above. If they don’t own an Australian publication, they can’t be the first to publish your work in Australia, so you can still sell First Australian Serial Rights (after DC Thomson have first published the piece).

That’s how I interpret it. If you think differently, that’s fine. What I would suggest is that if you have any particular First Serial Rights you are keen to retain, it would be worth checking that DC Thomson doesn’t own any publications in that particular country.

Of course, this clause could become problematical to writers if DC Thomson were to go on a spending spree at some point in the future and buy up a whole load of foreign publications. But if anyone knows what’s going to happen in the future, can they please get in touch with me and give me next week’s winning lottery numbers. If DC Thomson does start acquiring foreign publications, that’s when a writer would be advised to think again, and assess their own personal situation, before submitting any further material.

Whilst Angela Gilchrist confirmed my interpretation of Clause 2 was correct, she also had this to say: “But again, feel free to contact us if ever you have a specific query.”

So, if First South African Serial Rights or any other first rights are important to you, then simply drop the editor an email and ask. Better to get the information from the company, than to guess yourself and get it wrong. 

The editors at DC Thomson have a reputation for being some of the most helpful there are in the industry - and Angela Gilchrist took time to answer my (long) email, despite the fact that she’s responsible for putting together a weekly publication. I’ve said before on this blog that, particularly when a magazine goes to print, editors are immensely busy. Well, when you’re putting together a weekly publication, that means you’re going to print on a weekly basis, which means you’re very busy on a weekly basis. Despite this, Angela still took time to deal with my query.

So, if you have a query, ask the editor and be patient for the reply.

Payment
In my email to Angela, I mentioned that Clause 2 discusses the fact that material could be reused without further payment, so did this mean that more will be paid in the future for the first use of our work. (Well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!)

Angela replied with: “Nice try!” She did mention though, that payments may be reviewed later on in the year. Of course, that doesn’t mean that payments will go up, but at least they are planning to review it. (I’m sure cynics have already made up their mind what the results of any payment review will be, but if they have, that’s their choice.)

Collections
I know there are many writers who were concerned about the new contract and it’s implications for pocket novels and longer serial collections, etc. I’m sorry, but this is not a market I’m involved in, so I have not pursued this, at this time. There are other writers who are investigating the implications of these clauses, so you may be able to find out more information elsewhere. But, if it isn’t, then contact DC Thomson and ask them yourselves! DC Thomson are introducing this new contract, so they are expecting writers to have queries. They’re anticipating writers getting in contact with them. So, don’t disappoint them!

(It’s okay, I’m drawing to a close now)

So, to sum up this blog posting (if that’s possible):

- the new contract states that DC Thomson has to be the first to publish the accepted work (in any media). After that the writer is free to submit it elsewhere. Bear in mind, though, that this has implications for how and when you can submit the same work to others. You may have to change the way your operate, to accommodate this, if you choose to sign the contract.
- if you become aware that DC Thomson owns a foreign publication, then it might be prudent to check whether you’re still free to offer first serial rights to a publication in that same foreign country. (At present I don’t think this is an issue, but as I said, I cannot verify this. At the end of the day, this is the individual writer’s responsibility.)
- if you have any queries, then ask the editor. (Rumour has it they are human, and when they do a Number Two in the Loo they have to wipe their own bottoms, just like the rest of us. Sorry for lowering the tone here, but editors are not some nine-headed beast that will blacklist you forever, simply because you asked a question! Remember to keep this in perspective!) 

I do appreciate that when you have one contract that applies to everything, it means writers will be affected differently. For non-fiction pieces there is more flexibility, because it’s much easier to rewrite an article and turn it into a completely different piece (and the Society of Authors confirmed that the contract does not prevent writers from writing about the same subject matter in other publications). And, non-fiction is not compiled into anthologies or other collections in the same way that fiction is (although this contract does enable DC Thomson to do something similar with articles too!).

Writers are individuals, which means that this contract will affect different writers in different ways. Some writers won’t have a problem with this contract, others will. Just because others don’t have a problem with it, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a problem with it. Likewise, just because others do have a problem with it, doesn’t mean you should too. 

Whether you sign any contract is purely your decision and yours alone. And, ultimately, even then, signing the contract only has implications for you if you submit any material to DC Thomson in the future. This contract does not apply to previously accepted material.

Now that I’ve had professional feedback on the contract, and the editor has clarified some points for me, I now have a much better understanding of what this contract is asking, and, more importantly, how it fits into my writing. I haven’t made my decision yet, but I feel in a better place to make a decision now. I hope this blog post has clarified a few things for other writers too. I am sorry if I have complicated things further for you! I appreciate it won’t have answered every writer’s question … but, to be perfectly blunt, it is not my responsibility (nor that of any other blogger, or writer) to answer every writers’ question on this contract! 

If you receive the contract through the post (and they are being sent out in batches), and you don’t understand its implications for your writing, then you need to take steps to clarify what you don’t understand by asking the right people. Talk to the editors. Talk to professional organisations. That’s what I’ve been doing over the past week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Society of Authors for the time they spent going through this contract on my behalf, and I also want to thank Angela Gilchrist for her time in responding to my queries so quickly (despite going to press! So, if The People’s Friend is a little late hitting the shelves next week, it’s probably my fault everyone!). I’d also like to thank the other DC Thomson editors for taking the time and trouble of commenting on other blogs, as they try to clarify things for us.

Congratulations for reaching the end of this post. You probably deserve another cup of tea, or coffee, now!

Good luck! 

PS - to anyone who hasn’t been to my blog before, Good luck is how I end every blog post - the reference to luck is in no way meant to imply that luck is needed with the dealing of this contract :-)

PPS - Now there’s 3,304 words I wasn’t expecting to write today!

PPPS - the next blog post is scheduled for Monday 3rd June. After writing that lot, I need a break :-)

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