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Self-publishing News: “$100k isn’t a big advance these days” and other highlights from the Penguin Random House


In this week’s Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at Netflix’s settlement with Writers’ Guild of America and the Big Five publishing trial .

ALLi’s News Editor Dan Holloway

This week’s #indieauthorchat is tonight, Wednesday 13 July, at 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Time. Tim will be talking about developmental editing with my partner in crime from the Self-publishing News Podcast, Howard Lovy.

Netflix To Pay $42m to Writers to Compensate for Poor Terms

It’s been an interesting week in streaming. The biggest story is the crisis at HBO Max. This is the name that became synonymous two decades ago with high-quality storytelling in episodic long-form format when The Wire burst onto our screens. Recently the streaming service has looked tired at best. Last week started badly with news that the firm was canning the Batgirl film. The week ended with news that next summer the HBO Max app would merge with Discovery and go into a gentle decline

It would be easy to see this, and the problems at other streaming services, as something that bodes ill for the future of paid subscription as a whole. And one might then see that as either a negative or a positive, depending on whether you see subscription for literature as a good or bad thing. Before doing so, it would be worth revisiting Mark Williams’ recent article on why there may not be too much connection between the fate of streaming video and streaming literature

You could see the other big streaming subscription news as a big positive or a big negative. On the one hand, Netflix’s $42m (plus interest) bill to writers is a sign of years of bad practice that speaks of an industry turned slightly sour. On the other hand, it’s a big win for Writers’ Guild of America, and writers in general. Courts ordered Netflix to pay writers in respect to 139 Netflix original productions. Writers’ Guild showed that Netflix had failed to apply industry standard practices when negotiating terms with writers. As text to screen becomes more prominent, with the likes of Wattpad moving to end to end productions, this ruling may help establish a precedent that sees writers more fairly rewarded.

Stephen King, Clueless CEOs and the rest from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster Trial

It’s been a big week for books in the courts. We’ve already seen some of the better news for writers. But there’s no taking away from the biggest story of the week. Penguin Random House’s attempted merger (saying that always makes me want to share the “attempted murder” meme with a picture of 2 crows) with Simon & Schuster has been in court. The Department of Justice in the US wants to ascertain whether the $2.2bn takeover would be good for the industry. Specifically, whether it will close down competition to the detriment of customers and writers.

It sounds like pretty dry stuff. A small time version of the kind of wranglings we hear about sporadically with Google, Facebook and the like. Except that the protagonists, being book people, couldn’t help make it a drama. Stephen King…

But the biggest jaw-dropping moment was saved for the CEOs involved. And what it told us about the state of traditional publishing, and how disconnected bigwigs are from their authors, was quite eye opening. Much of the argument about the impact on authors has focused on advances. Specifically, the size of advances, and whether they would decrease with less competition. If we believe Penguin Random House’s Markus Dohle, then PRH is the literary world’s equivalent of an angel investor showering around $250,000 advances. And Simon and Schuster’s Jonathan Karp didn’t really seem to offer anything to suggest that wouldn’t continue. It took Twitter to point out that median advances barely scraped into 5 figures, let alone comfortably 6.

And Stephen King did what he does best. Got straight to the point without a wasted word: “The more companies there are, the better competition there is,” he said.

If you really want to do a deep dive into the shenanigans, Publishers Weekly has indexed its numerous reports from the trial here.

Society of Authors Prizes Open (and open to indies)

This week saw the roster of prizes run by the Society of Authors open for 2023 entries. Most of the prizes have a deadline of the end of October. As the Society points out, eligibility rules are often fixed by donors, so it is not in their gift to make every award open to self-published writers. But two of the awards are open to us. The McKitterick Prize is for debut novels from authors over 40. And this year sees the launch of the ADCI Prize. This is a prize for disabled and chronically ill authors that offers both prize money and invaluable guidance and mentoring. Self-published books are eligible but should contain a central disabled or chronically ill character, though their disability need not be the central plot point.

In addition, some (the Betty Trask and Eric Gregory for example) are open to unpublished works.

Waterstones Warehousing Software Causes Supply Issues that are Affecting Writers

Waterstones, the UK’s leading bookstore chain and one of James Daunt’s pet projects, often features in this column. It’s less common that it trends on Twitter. But that’s exactly what happened on Sunday and Monday. Waterstones recently migrated to a new warehousing and ordering software package called Blue Yonder. But it hasn’t been going very well. Stores have found themselves suffering stock shortages for 6 weeks. That has meant store staff facing customer frustration. It has also meant that authors have suffered. Particularly authors who had releases during the affected period. The story broke on Twitter thanks to the fabulous detective work of Sam Missingham. Sam has also done a great job of platforming any authors affected by the issue.

New Tools from Apple

Some interesting new tools from Apple aim to help with book marketing. Check out the Apple Toolbox Promote tab for a selection of new gizmos. The most interesting is Booklinker. This is what it sounds like. A way of creating a single link to multiple outlets.

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