Magazine publishers large and small would do well to take the time to read and heed a long, three-part article just published by Derek Finkle on Story Board. It's called The E-Book Showdown and centres on the contractual issues and rights of independent and freelance writers and their future business relations with publishers.
Finkle's thesis seems to be that we are at a watershed moment where both publishers and writers have to recognize the importance and financial potential of electronic rights and the need to find a reasonable accommodation.
What gives this article particular resonance is that Finkle names names and quotes correspondence and conversations with three of the major players in the Toronto market -- Toronto Life, Toronto Star and The Walrus. While this may chagrin or enrage the participants, it at last lays a public table for a conversation about how writers should be compensated beyond the fees they have traditionally been paid for print publication.
"The Canadian Writers Group has had a front-row seat on early negotiations – some might say tugs-of-war – between writers and publishers over single-length e-book rights. In this series, I’d like to focus on the negotiations our agency has had around these issues on our writers’ behalf with the Toronto Star, Toronto Life and the Walrus. I will also share some insights about our experience publishing e-books on behalf of our writers. I am doing so to help spark a conversation around these issues and in the hope that my experience will help writers considering publishing e-books independently – or those who have been approached by publications wishing to publish e-books of their work – make informed decisions."
It should be made clear that Finkle's Canadian Writers Group is both an agency on behalf of writers and, now, a publisher of e-books itself. But let's take that for now as a positive -- at least the CWG is engaged and has inside information (though I imagine that publishers and editors will be exceedingly careful in future about what they say.)
The argument that magazine publishers have made in recent years was that they weren't making any money on electronic rights and websites and therefore couldn't afford to pay writers additional fees.The nub of Finkle's article is that such arguments no longer hold, particularly as writers discover they can profitably retain such rights for themselves.