Troubled publisher Freight Books has been accused of "rubbing salt in the wound" by sending an email to writers asking if they wanted to buy their own books.
Founded as an imprint of Freight Design in 2011 by Davinder Samrai and Adrian Searle, operations at publisher Freight Books have been thrown into disarray since the abrupt departure of Searle in April due to “irreconcilable differences over strategic direction”.
Last month, authors and agents called on Freight Books to provide more transparency about its financial status after it emerged its writers had not been paid for several months. It has also been reported that Freight has been in talks to sell the book side of the business, following an "unsolicited" request to buy the press, but last month the publisher was taken to court by Glasgow-based printing company Bell and Bain Printers over unpaid work dating back to the beginning of the year.
In an email to authors seen by The Bookseller, Samrai highlighted the “extremely uncertain” future the publisher faced and invited authors to buy their own books, saying that it "may be possible to set stock against any monies you are owed".
Samrai said that during a "recent legal process", it was explained that should the court's decision go against him or Freight Books, then "matters relating to Freight Books [...] could be taken out of my hands".
"If you would like to buy stock of your titles, it may be prudent to act sooner rather than later”, Samrai said. “I appreciate this may cause unease but depending on quantities, I may be able to supply at a better discount than the regular author discount. If you would like to secure books – please email me your requests and I'll do all I can to ensure you receive your books.
He added: “If any author is owed monies by way of royalties/advances etc. it may be possible to set stock against any monies you are owed. Also, if you are owed royalties an invoice should be submitted, in order to be registered on our accounts system (even if you not interested in books as payment).”
However, the email has been met with outrage by one author who said it was like "rubbing salt in the wound".
A Freight author, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Bookseller: “I am utterly disgusted that a company in which so many writers put their trust thinks that selling an author discount copies of their own work can do anything but rub salt in the wound. The behaviour and mismanagement of Freight is an affront to everything the publishing industry should be about." He added: "I for one hope I never hear of them again, and wish I had never had anything to do with them."
Another Freight author, Alan Murray, said the offer was "a bit bonkers". He said: "Authors who have not been paid are offered their own books at a discount - presumably allowing revenue raised to pay authors (and others) who haven't been paid and whose contracts have probably been breached. Thanks, but no thanks. Count me right out."
He added that the move was like "trying to save the Titanic while letting all the passengers drown."
"Throughout, I've been most supportive of Davinder; he appears to have been been placed in an awful position", said Murray. "However, Freight is not helping itself when it comes to open communication with authors. After several months (and many requests for information) I still don't know if Freight is trading. I still don't know what supposed "creative differences" led to the creation of this mess.
"Sure, there will be legal constraints on what Davinder can say but that should not prevent authors and agents being told what has gone wrong and why it has gone wrong. It seems a bit like trying to save the Titantic while letting the passengers drown."
Meanwhile, agents have insisted authors need to be paid royalties and have said they are "appalled" writers have been invited to pay for copies of their own books.
Gordon Wise, president of the Association of Author’s Agents (AAA), said “Individual agents and authors are pursuing the matter direct with Freight Books, but while it is reassuring to see engagement by Davinder Samrai, AAA members are appalled that authors are being asked to pay for copies of their own books when in many instances the company owes them substantial sums of money, or that stock should be considered an acceptable compensation in lieu of payment.”
An agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “We’re still insistent the authors need to be paid their royalties."
The Society of Authors has confirmed that it is working with "a number" of authors affected by the situation. A spokesperson highlighted that the email in question would have only been sent to authors whose books have already been published and that other authors are "still in a pre-publication limbo".
“Many SoA members have been affected by the situation at the publisher, so our advisors are working with Freight-published authors on a case by case basis", the spokesperson said. "They need to know their rights, how they can protect their work, and ultimately how the situation as it develops will impact their livelihoods. And of course the wide range covered by Freight’s backlist means that no two authors’ cases are identical."
Creative Scotland had previously granted the publisher £170,000 worth of funding for past projects. A spokesperson said: “Freight Books have received funding on a project basis, in the past, though our Open Project Fund but it is not currently in receipt of funding from Creative Scotland. Nevertheless, alongside Publishing Scotland, and in the interests of the continued development of literature and publishing in Scotland, we continue to monitor the situation. We have been in constant dialogue with many authors affected regarding their contractual obligations to the company, and are offering advice and assistance where we can.”
Samrai declined to comment.