Monday, 6 April 2015

Contract Conundrum


Word on the wire is that Take a Break’s Fiction Feast has issued a new contract, and writers are querying whether it’s safe to sign. I haven’t submitted anything to Take a Break for a while, because I’ve been concentrating on Woman’s Weekly (and my latest success with them is in the May 2015 issue of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, out tomorrow - 7th April).

I'm glad to see writers are asking questions about the contract. That’s what you should do. And if there’s anything you don’t understand then query it. Query it with the editor, first of all, to see what they say. But if you can, seek advice from a reputable source, such as the Society of Authors, or the NUJ, if you are a member of these organisations. (And it’s at times like this when their membership fees really come into their own.)

If there is anything you don’t like about a contract, then don’t sign it. Walk away. Yes, it’s hard. It’s not what we want, but you have to look after yourself.

I’ve recently gone through a similar issue with the photographic agency I sell my photos through. Alamy issued a revised contract a few weeks ago, claiming that they were clarifying a few points that were confusing in the previous contract. This in itself is not a problem. Contracts need to be updated, as the world changes, in order to reflect those changes. But many photographers, including myself, were concerned at the interpretation of the new clauses in this contract. People were upset about the ramifications of accepting the revised contract. Several photographers got in touch with the Managing Director seeking clarification. (How ironic that this new contract designed to make things clearer did anything but.)

The Managing Director tried explaining, but the explanations didn’t really tally with what the contract suggested. So, many photographers began the process of cancelling their contract and walking away, and I began looking for alternative agencies that I could approach. Leaving a photographic agency isn’t easy, but there were articles appearing online offering advice about how to take your photos away from the agency in a way that captured as much information as possible to make submitting them to another agency much easier. Contributors began voting with their feet.

Then last week, Alamy sent an email to all of its contracted contributors:

We made some changes to your Alamy contract on 16th February that were due to come into force on April 1st. 

We've had some feedback from our photographers and it made us realise that some of the clauses didn't accurately reflect how we work, so we've made some changes. 

We're sorry we didn't do a good job of explaining this before.

Because we've made some further changes we're writing to give you 45 days notice of all recent changes. 
Having read through the revised, revised contract I’m happier. The really contentious issues have been dealt with satisfactorily and I’ve decided to stay, for the moment. The agencies contributors have been listened to. We had concerns. We raised those queries. And the company listened.
So, if you get a contract you don’t understand then get in touch with the company who sent it and ask them to clarify. (Keep a record of your requests and their answers, obviously.) And only if you’re happy with what the contract says should you sign up to it.
Good luck.

11 comments:

  1. I've got the 30 second Countdown Conundrum tune in my head now ....

    But seriously, yes, this is very important. It's perfectly okay to query a clause or term you don't understand. People are nervous about doing this - but why? You won't be struck off an editor's Christmas card list for merely asking a question .... and you won't lose work either!

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    1. Christmas card list? ;-)

      Yes, if you don't ask, you'll never find out. It's just about being professional, isn't it?

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  2. That's interesting. I wonder what made you decide to go with Alamy as oposed to Istockphoto or one of the other dozens of photo libraries that pay contributors? I need to diversify in the new financial year, and doing more on the photographic side is part of the plan. Is there any particular reason to sell to Alamy as opposed to the others? Or for that matter, can you sell cross-platform or is that forbidden?

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    1. Why Alamy? It was just a question of timing, really. They were just starting up and I was looking, and because they were starting up the commission rates were better than other agencies. You can join other agencies at the same time, because you can join on a non-exclusive basis, although photographers generally get paid a lower commission rate if their photos are with other agencies too. It does mean that should a customer want exclusivity of a particular photo (and pay for that exclusivity) you need to withdraw that image from any other agencies you might have that image with. For me, Alamy has always been a useful additional income stream for the photos I take to illustrate my articles with.

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  3. Thank you for the advice, Simon. It is so easy to sign away without thinking when one is so happy to have had a story accepted. I look forward to reading your story in Woman's Weekly - I'll be visiting their offices for a day course next Monday - can't wait. Congratulations and thanks again for the information and reminder to read and understand clearly before signing anything.

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    1. Hope you enjoyed the course, Nicola.

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  4. You're quite right that you should never be afraid to walk away if the contract's not in your best interests - and as you saw when enough people do, the editors often have to back down. But never burn your bridges by saying things you might regret to the editor. Make you case clearly but politely and if necessary just leave / say no thanks.
    Once when a publication I write for had to lower its rates- a flat rate per article - many writers flounced off telling the editor what they thought of her. I said nothing. The editor later came back to me and offered to let me divide my one article into two to enable me to get more than the old pay would have been. I'm glad I kept my cool.

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    1. Yes, it's worth taking a considered viewpoint on these things, sometimes!

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  5. There is part of the TAB contract which I don't understand and I've asked for an explanation. I'll probably end up sisgning it, but it doesn't seem sensible to do that before I know what it is I'm agreeing to.

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    1. Yes, if you don't understand something then don't sign. At the end of the day, if your story is 'publishable' it can wait until you've signed the contract. It will still be publishable after you've signed, whenever that is. And if you don't sign, then you know your story was good enough to publish by that magazine, even if by not signing, it means you need to look for a new market. Difficult times, heh?

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