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Samhain

Monday News: Brashear reclaims helm at Samhain, a tale of digital publishing, a South African street book reviewer, and Amanda Palmer on voluntary exchange

Monday News: Brashear reclaims helm at Samhain, a tale of digital...

Christina Brashear Returns as Samhain Publisher – This is pretty interesting. Brashear, who went from Publisher to President of Samhain in 2012, is back as Publisher, with a promise to “return” Samhain “to its roots.” Lindsey Faber is not only stepping down as Publisher, but leaving Samhain entirely (there’s something about her serving as a consultant to the company. Hmm.). If you remember, there were recently some apparent issues with contract terms for Samhain authors. Brashear claims the following deals are in process:

17-audiobook deal with feminist icon Susie Bright at Audible
4-audiobook deal with Insatiable
Front-list Samhain titles will now be available on the industry review site NetGalley
A newly revamped and designed website will launch this summer
Samhain will sponsor the Horror Writers of America/Bram Stoker Awards in 2015
The company will embark on aggressive mainstream commercial advertising, starting with the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine

Says Brashear, “As part of this reorganization, Samhain will be returning to its roots of finding and publishing best-selling romance writers. The careers of New York Times best-selling authors like Maya Banks and Lorelei James started at Samhain nearly a decade ago. Now that I’m back at the helm, I’ll continue to nurture and support our current authors while looking to find that next generation of best-selling writers to take their work to the next level and continue to do what Samhain does best.” –PR Web

I Was a Digital Best Seller! – Tony Horwitz chronicles his foray into digital publishing. These stories tend to trigger all sorts of defensive rebuttals from self and digital publishing gurus and other advocates, but I think they serve as a very real, and very true reminder that a) the market is heavily impacted with self-published and digitally published authors, b) authors are doing more and more marketing of their own books, and if they serve as publisher as well as author, they’re likely doing most to all of it, and c) the term “bestseller” doesn’t necessarily translate to tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. Also, note the unsavory reference to “gaming the system” via friends and family reviews. *sigh*

Eager to know how many copies this represented, I asked Byliner for sales figures. It took them a while to respond — because, I imagined, they needed the time to tally the dizzying numbers pouring in from Amazon, iTunes and other retailers. In fact, the total was such that Byliner could offer only a “guesstimate.” In its first month “Boom” had sold “somewhere between 700 and 800 copies,” the email read, adding, “these things can take time to build, and this is the kind of story with a potentially very long tail.”

It was also the kind of story that could bankrupt a writer. I’d now devoted five months to writing and peddling “Boom” and wasn’t even halfway to earning out my $2,000 advance (less than the overrun on my travel). The cruelest joke, though, was that 700 to 800 copies made “Boom” a top-rated seller. What did that mean for all the titles lower down the list? Were they selling at all? –New York Times

The Unlikely Story of The Pavement Bookworm – Tebogo Malope, a South Africa cinematographer, recently filmed an interview with Philani, a 24-year old homeless man from Johannesburg who raises money through his love of books and his own literary literacy. The poignancy of this story hits on multiple levels, from its own social justice foundations to the personal inspiration Philani represents in a country (and within a continent) where basic literacy is still such a concern.

Philani is a bookworm who has chosen to review and sell books rather than resort to begging. He shows up on different streets of Johannesburg with a pile of books, and on request he will review the books, the authors, the publishers.

“He has read all the books in his collection and is always seeking for more to read,” says Tebogo. “He then sells some of his books as a way to raise money for himself and some of his homeless friends. I’m appealing to anyone that can contribute somehow into his life.

“He’s a great role model on the power of reading and can be an amazing ambassador for our young people.” –South Africa People

Amanda Palmer on the Art of Asking and the Shared Dignity of Giving and Receiving – In the wake of Tesla’s announcement that it was basically dumping its patents and throwing in with open source technology, I was thinking about the unremitting cries of piracy in the reading communities, and the equally persistent claims that readers somehow have a responsibility to make sure authors have food to put on the table, take care of their children, dogs, etc., etc. Which got me thinking about this interesting TED talk from musician Amanda Palmer, who, among other things, left her own music label and crowd sourced her next album. While her technique is pretty extreme, I think her philosophy is both sound and inspiring.

Palmer talks extensively about the concept of fair exchange between artists and their fans, and she does it in a way that emphasizes the difference between entitlement (on either side) and voluntary exchange. By focusing on the second, she reinforces what many have asserted about all the anti-piracy measures and talk, namely that it often gets in the way of what is a more “natural” circumstance — specifically that people *want* to pay for creative products, and when given the opportunity outside an environment of suspicion, demand, and control, that they will do so generously and voluntarily.

“I don’t see these things as risks — I see them as trust. … But the perfect tools can’t help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly — but, more importantly, to ask without shame. … When we really see each other, we want to help each other. I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?’ –Brain Pickings

Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

The rise of self publishing hasn’t just affected traditional print publishers. In fact, with the rate of ebook adoption slowing many observers suggest the numbers indicate we’re reaching a plateau. One of the less publicized victims of the sea changes occurring in publishing is the digital first publisher.

While reports of financial instability has plagued Ellora’s Cave, one of the oldest digital publishers around, for years recent rumors place Samhain squarely in the spotlight as well. Long time readers of Dear Author are familiar with the rise and fall of digital publishers back in the mid to late 2000s. It seemed that everyone with a passing knowledge of a WordPress template felt comfortable setting up shop.

Through it all Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have endured.

Recent reports from authors, however, suggest that both companies are struggling. Ellora’s Cave is undergoing several months of non payment of royalties stemming back to October 2013.

In response to the late payments, the owner of Ellora’s Cave sent out a group email in February explaining that royalties were late because a new program had been installed but the software program needed fixing resulting in the EC staff having to calculate royalties by hand.

Ellora’s Cave is supposed to pay monthly but even after this email went out, several authors report still not receiving their royalty payments or receiving lower than normal royalty payments. Purportedly Ellora’s Cave is hoping that the signing of celebrity authors like Farrah Abraham of Teen Mom and the James Deen sex tape is going to save their ship.

"CONTRACT" Tag Cloud Globe (agreement signature law legal form)

Samhain doesn’t have money problems. From all accounts, the company is still flush but experiencing some downturn in sales. No, the complaints about Samhain have to do with author contacts and contract terms. These more restrictive terms seem inspired to keep more rights within the company.

There are the general complaints that Samhain is slow to respond to any inquiries. But more disconcerting for authors is the change in several policies.

It used to be that obtaining a reversion of rights was fairly simple. Any author could request a reversion of rights after seven years. Combined with robust royalties of 30% off the retail and 40% off sales direct from the publisher, Samhain was viewed as one of the best and most author friendly contracts around.

Tides are turning. Currently Samhain is being non responsive to reversion letters. Samhain, in response to an inquiry, simply says that it is being thoughtful in the way that the requests are being processed.

A new contract clause is being inserted. The boiler plate language is Metadata with respect to the Work shall be considered work made for hire to the Publisher and Publisher shall own all rights to such metadata.”

According to the IDPF (Independent Digital Publishing Forum) who sets epub standards, metadata includes all of the following:

2.2.1: <title> </title>
2.2.2: <creator> </creator>
2.2.3: <subject> </subject>
2.2.4: <description> </description>
2.2.5: <publisher> </publisher>
2.2.6: <contributor> </contributor>
2.2.7: <date> </date>
2.2.8: <type> </type>
2.2.9: <format> </format>
2.2.10: <identifier> </identifier>
2.2.11: <source> </source>
2.2.12: <language> </language>
2.2.13: <relation> </relation>
2.2.14: <coverage> </coverage>
2.2.15: <rights> </rights>

When pressed, Samhain clarified that it wanted only to keep tagline, cover copy and sales hook. Unfortunately when the modified contract came back, it still included the above language allowing Samhain broad rights over the metadata and some authors are concerned that the lack of specificity could cover author pen names (creator/contributor) or the type of format (epub/kindle/pdf) and so on. Samhain asserts that this clause is negotiable, but the clause as written is very broad.

Because reversion of rights is becoming so important, these metadata clauses need to be worked out. It’s understandable for a publisher to want to seek to protect its own work but using the overly broad term “metadata” without an exhaustive list of what that term includes may very well endanger authors.

Perhaps the final straw for some authors was that when the reversion was requested, a new contract was sent to the authors that would bind them to additional terms along with the original contract signed.  Samhain asserts that this language could be negotiated as it was the result of an overzealous attorney designed to protect Samhain’s rights. However, a reversion of rights is a contractual right. A request to get the right to that work returned to the author should not be met with new contract demands (unless there is more money involved).

Nonetheless, the changes appear overreaching. There are already exchanges between authors on private loops warning others away from these two big digital publishers because of lack of payment, slow payment, slow response, poor contract terms, and reduced sales.

Self publishing and even new digital publishers are hammering away at the base of older and established digital publishers as more and more authors are determined to forge their own path. It’s unsurprising that there are both financial troubles and contractual issues arising out of this.