Rumble in the Publishing Jungle

There is a rumble in the publishing jungle brewing. It may turn out to be a violent storm or a splash in a teacup.
In March this year, Wiley & Sons purchased Bloomberg Press, the publishing imprint of Bloomberg—nothing untoward there. A few weeks later, Wiley started contacting Bloomberg Press authors by letter informing them about ‘differences in the accounting systems of Bloomberg and Wiley,’ and more curiously required authors to ‘sign up’ to these changes.
When the Authors Guild in the US began to study these ‘differences in the accounting systems’, they became concerned about the consequences for Bloomberg Press authors and the implications it may have on the terms of contract authors already had in place—more to the point—Wiley seemed to be requesting their Bloomberg Press authors to alter terms in their existing contracts.
The Authors Guild is contends that the implication of an author signing off on the requests of Wiley would result in the following:

1. Change royalty rates based on retail list price to rates based on net receipts. We’ve reviewed several Bloomberg Press contracts. All provide for royalty payments based on the retail list price (although we understand that there may be many based on net receipts). The Wiley letter misleadingly presents this to the author as good news: “We are pleased to inform you that we will be paying your royalties on the net amount received…” This change will, for many authors, effectively slice royalties by up to 50% for some book sales. Wiley’s letter fails to disclose that, urging Bloomberg Press writers to reconsider signing a letter from John Wiley & Sons. Wiley acquired Bloomberg Press in March, and the company has sent a letter to hundreds of Bloomberg writers “about a few differences in the accounting systems of Bloomberg and Wiley.”

Ah, yes, the old net versus gross complicated math so many authors using author solutions services will be familiar with. Wiley seem to want to stretch the same yarn that says a higher percentage of ‘X’ net is more than a lower percentage gross ‘Y’. Nice work lads, but in any language, half of nothing still amounts to nothing…

2. Empower Wiley to keep an author’s book in print with a lowball print on demand royalty of 5% of net receipts. (Bloomberg Press had no print on demand program.) The contract amendment, which provides no threshold level of sales for a work to be considered in print, essentially grants Wiley a perpetual right in an author’s book for a pittance. The 5% of net receipts royalty rate for print on demand editions is as low as we’ve seen.

Now we are in real author solutions services territory. Let’s see, hmmm, 5% of net receipts—I’m not sure even PublishAmerica (PBA 139.58) authors would sign up to a figure like that. And from a mainstream publisher who has no print-on-demand facility in place? It also looks like the revision of publishing rights after a book goes out of print goes out the window, because after all, Wiley is suggesting they are going to keep an author’s book perpetually in print using their imaginary POD facilities.
Not only was the Authors Guild agog at what was being suggested by Wiley, but also in the manner Wiley chose to go about their business:

“This is no way to do business. The letter is shocking from a publisher of Wiley’s stature. In our view, Wiley should tear up any signed letters it has received and start over, forthrightly explaining to its new authors the contractual changes it is seeking and how this may affect their income and their right to terminate their publishing contracts.”

Not surprisingly, Wiley & Sons had a quick retort for the Authors Guild, effectively telling them to mind their own business and butt out.

“This morning – without speaking with Wiley concerning its specific assertions – the Authors Guild issued an “alert” to its authors, claiming that the Wiley letter is deceptive and inferring that the Wiley changes it effects will reduce royalties for all or most former Bloomberg authors. This is simply not the case. We believe former Bloomberg authors will be paid higher royalties in most instances. The limited number of contract amendments the AG apparently chose to select are not therefore representative; nor are their “calculations” accurate. In any event, Wiley stands by its offer to discuss their individual contracts with all affected authors. We are happy to address any questions and concerns they may have about their individual contracts. Wiley is committed to the Bloomberg authors and is confident we will provide the best possible working relationships for them.”

This one is going to run for quite a while I think.
The Authors Guild offered their advice to authors who received the Wiley letter:

“If signed by an author, the letter is actually a contract amendment that will materially and adversely affect the royalty rates of many Bloomberg Press authors. The Authors Guild strongly urges Bloomberg Press authors to not sign this letter without careful consideration. If you have received this letter, consult your agent or a publishing attorney or contact a lawyer in our legal department so you understand precisely how this amendment would affect your rights and royalties. Important: if you have already signed the letter and returned it to Wiley, contact our legal department immediately.”

Watch this space to see how this rumble turns out…

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