Publishers should start to spread money from the sale of e-books fairly between themselves and authors, and not make assumptions when they start to experiment with new channels that “an author is going to be thrilled with it”, Association of Authors’ Agents president Sam Edenborough has warned.
Speaking at The Publishers Association AGM on Wednesday (13th) on a panel about changing the perception of publishing, Edenborough said that authors often viewed publishers, no matter what their size, as “massive, implacable things they can’t really deal with”. To change that perception, publishers needed to communicate more frequently with authors.
Edenborough added: “I think that the best way to keep authors happy as publishers is to be fair in the way you deal with them.
“What we’re seeing at the moment as agents is publishers wanting more rights and to take more of the author’s property and to try and put it in as many different places as possible, but they want to pay less money and don’t necessarily want to increase the royalties in certain areas. And I think unfortunately, and I know you’re sick of hearing this from agents, but it’s a massive problem. And it’s not just an agent’s problem, it’s an author’s problem.
“It’s been a long time since now you started publishing e-books and we’re not seeing a shift in how the money is being spread around.”
Edenborough said authors were keen on innovation, but wanted to be consulted by their publishers first on new things.
“The other thing is don’t make assumptions when you start to experiment with new channels that an author is going to be thrilled with it,” Edenborough said. “It’s a really good idea to ask first then do it later, rather than just assuming you probably have those rights and it would be alright probably to bung the book into a subscription service or into a library.
“We’re really keen to innovate, authors really want to work with publishers to experiment and get the best out of the market, but we won’t do that happily if we’re not asked nicely.”
The PA’s director of policy and communications Susie Winter chaired the panel about changing the perception of publishing, and said the PA had set up a communications task force in response to research that found the role of publishers was often viewed as being redundant, and that publishing was not innovative and was more likely to follow or even oppose change.
Alice Bonasio of Elsevier, who is a member of The PA’s communications task force said that a “major challenge” in publishing was “that in such an established industry people have perceptions of what publishing is, what it stands for, how it operates”.
“Whether they’re true or not doesn’t matter,” she added, saying that there were good stories about innovation in publishing, and that more needed to be done to get these stories heard.
The AGM also discussed how publishing could meet its recruitment challenges of attracting more people who did not have backgrounds in publishing or publishing-related subjects, and in attracting more candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Hachette UK’s group HR director Dominic Mahony said that in some ways publishing did not have a recruitment problem, as most roles attracted a large number of good candidates, but that the industry did need more people from diverse backgrounds.
He said publishing was “fishing from a fairly limited pool” at present.
Nigel Warner, co-founder of Creative Access, said publishing was not the only industry to have difficulty in recruiting diverse candidates, and that this was an issue across the creative industries.
“It’s going to take time and scale [to change],” said Warner.
The AGM also discussed the issue of copyright infringement, with The PA’s director of operations Mark Wharton revealing that the group’s Copyright Infringement Portal had sent out 209,000 take down notices since it relaunched in March this year.
Mo Ali, developer of the portal, said take down notices were becoming “more and more effective”.
“We want to make sure when people go to a site they’re disrupted,” he said. “The more someone is frustrated, the less likely they are to go back to those sites.”
Law firm Wiggins LLP has submitted a site blocking notice to the High Court on behalf of The PA. If approved, UK broadband providers will be required to block access to the seven sites names in the High Court documents.
Simon Baggs, a partner at Wiggins LLP, said site blocking was just one aspect of the strategy against piracy.
He said piracy was “never going to be solved, but the tide is definitely turning”.
Dan Guthrie, a partner at communications consultancy Luther Pendragon, gave an assessment of the new government, saying the appointment of John Whittingdale, a supporter of IP, as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was clever.
The AGM concluded with the the stepping down of Dominic Knight of Palgrave Macmillan as president and the formal appointment of Joanna Prior, m.d. of Penguin Random House’s Penguin General division, as the new president of The Publishers Association.