You Should Be Paying Attention

September 20th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

While our focus, if we could be accused of having one, is primarily on fiction writers, novelists, if you will, we retain a wide interest in all things that affect writers. That and we live in a town where we are apparently the only one not working on a screenplay. The Writers Guild of America is facing major issues in the coming year, not the least of which is selecting a president who can last a full term. This is critical because the guild is heading toward a major, messy, extensive and expensive battle. If the WGA strkes, it will be because of royalties from new distribution streams.

Recently, the Author’s Guild took a position on royalties attributable to electronic book sales. As far as the issue went, we didn’t see a lot of movement. Barely a whisper of debate among our sources. Sure, it’s possible that the discussion grew hot and heavy elsewhere, but the lack of outrage we should have witnessed didn’t trickle into our world (except our own outrage — it’s hard to stay all worked up when you’re alone). There was a real sense of that’s how it is and that’s how it will be.

WGA members have never taken that attitude. Writers are the low man on the totem pole when it comes to Hollywood’s creative compensation structure. But without writers, the whole system will not function. Even reality TV is scripted. The WGA is not accepting the studios’ position that the current DVD royalty structure is fair (compare this to the reaction to the Author’s Guild position); it evolved from a formula developed for a previous medium (videocassettes) and technology changes everything. Faster and cheaper means you have to re-examine your underlying belief system. Even as DVDs remain hot, there are newer technologies on the horizon. Wide availability of broadband in the home takes us one step further to the often mentioned but not-quite-ready-for-execution Video on Demand.

It is all very well and good to be a creative type. But those statements that arrive every six months (sometimes with lovely checks)? They represent something you should know and understand. We recently walked you through a high level royalty calculation; we did not explain the components of revenue. You should think about them: each stream flows into a central river to be reported to you. All streams are not equal in size. Some have more boulders than others. Some are just smooth as glass and flowing rapidly. Some have dams and blocks.

Probably you should pay more attention to the fast-flowing streams, especially if they’re new.

We cannot say this strongly enough: read your contract and understand it. Your publisher does not wish you ill, but your publisher is a for-profit entity. As are you. Maximizing profits keeps the business going; however, if you’re not getting your fair share of royalties because old definitions are applied to new technologies (as is the case with DVDs and VOD in the motion picture industry), you are responsbible. The entity that writes the contract always has the upper hand.

If novelists aren’t looking at what’s happening in Hollywood and comparing it to their own situation, we worry about their priorities. We keep saying, over and over, that it’s your business and you must understand it. Start by learning what’s happening with the WGA.

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