Regular readers of this blog might remember that in September 2008 I blogged about YouWriteOn’s offer to publish the first 5,000 writers who submitted their work, and that I wrote a few more blog posts about YouWriteOn in the subsequent months. YouWriteOn’s publishing scheme was ill-conceived and badly organised: few books were actually published by the deadline of Christmas of that year, the books which were published were full of errors, were prone to some very dodgy covers, and the listings on Amazon were also full of errors with titles, cover images and author-names wildly mismatched. Despite the huge amount of attention YouWriteOn’s publishing scheme attracted from the online community I’m not aware of any of the books which were published as a result of this scheme enjoying any great success, although I’d love to hear about any which did.
I heard yesterday that on Tuesday of last week, YouWriteOn.com Ltd was dissolved.
This doesn’t seem to have affected the main YouWriteOn website, which remains in place. While the YouWriteOn message board seemed active and busy yesterday I didn’t find any discussions regarding the end of the company: perhaps the writers there are not aware of the situation, or perhaps I didn’t look hard enough–do feel free to post a link or two in the discussions if you know where they are.
It could be, of course, that YouWriteOn.com Ltd isn’t connected with the YouWriteOn website and message board, and dealt only with the publishing scheme: that’s entirely possible since the nature of the company’s business was listed at Companies House as “Publishing of books”, and YouWriteOn is involved in a lot more than just publishing: it has an extensive and useful feedback-and-review system, and a message board for its members. However, YouWriteOn is involved in a couple of other writing-related pies.
There’s The Next Big Author, which is clearly affilliated with YouWriteOn despite it’s different name: much of the text on the website bears a remarkable similarity in tone and phrasing to the text on the YouWriteOn website and not only does The Next Big Author work on the same principles as YouWriteOn (only without its own message board), it tells all interested parties to post their work on YouWriteOn’s feedback system.
I can’t be sure that The Next Big Author site remains active as its blog hasn’t been updated since August of this year, and my cursory glance around its website uncovered no active competitions. But never fear: FeedARead is ready to step into the gap. It’s been touted by YouWriteOn as “FeedARead.com – new Arts Council funded publishing site”. FeedARead doesn’t mess about with message boards or feedback systems: it’s a straightforward publishing scheme which entices writers to sign up by promising this:
Our Arts Council funding enables us to give higher royalties than the norm of the largest publishers in the industry.
That claim sounds sadly familiar. In 2008 YouWriteOn made a similar claim about the high royalties it would pay on its publishing scheme: it omitted to mention that it paid royalties on nett, while trade publishers paid royalties on cover price, and that once this difference was accounted for, YouWriteOn’s royalties were on the poor side.
At the beginning of this month, many of the books which were originally published by YouWriteOn were transferred to FeedARead, apparently without the authors of those books being informed or consulted. YouWriteOn members asked on the YWO message board how it was possible for a particular YouWriteOn author who was quoted on the FeedARead website to have praised YouWriteOn’s publishing scheme as she had died before her book was published; and that her book had been published a considerable time before June 2011 when FeedARead was launched. Subsequently that author’s quote was removed from the FeedARead site, and that discussion on the YouWriteOn message board has now been heavily edited, and many posts deleted. You’ll see that the title of the thread is “Is this YWO in another guise?”, but the discussion begins with series of links from YouWriteOn itself, praising its own services, which isn’t an appropriate title for a puff-thread like that: and the comments which follow seem to be part of an entirely different discussion–because they were, before the rest of the thread was deleted.
My guess is that now YouWriteOn.com Ltd has been dissolved, FeedARead is soon going to absorb YouWriteOn’s publishing arm and The Next Big Author is going to take over the YouWriteOn website and message board. If I were to be really cynical I’d suggest that this was happening because Arts Council England wasn’t prepared to hand over any more funding to YouWriteOn, but that new organisations would still be able to attract funding: as I’ve already mentioned, FeedARead is already in receipt of Arts Council funding. Much of this is conjecture on my part, of course, and if I’m wrong I apologise unreservedly to everyone concerned. If I’m right, though, it’s a pretty cynical manouvre by the person or people behind YouWriteOn and FeedARead.
Finally, what about all the authors who have been published by the now apparently-defunct YouWriteOn? The standard contract which I saw in 2008 didn’t provide for the rights to their books to be transferred to another publisher, regardless of whether the authors were consulted or not; and no one on the YouWriteOn message board seems aware that their publisher has now been dissolved. I have to wonder how any rights tied to YouWriteOn have been handled: have those rights been transferred en masse to FeedARead without a word to the authors? were the rights properly reverted to the writers prior to YouWriteOn being dissolved? or has YouWriteOn’s publishing arm simply been closed down with no notice or information given to the writers concerned? If the latter is the case, how can the writers concerned reclaim their rights? Is it even possible? And if the former is true, what legal rights did FeedARead and YouWriteOn have to do this? what amendments have been made to the writers’ contracts along the way? Do their contracts remain enforceable? and how will this affect the authors concerned?
Updated 29 October 2011
I’ve been asked why the closure of YouWriteOn is such a big deal when FeedARead is now apparently taking over its publishing activities. These are some of the issues and questions I’d want responses to if I were involved with YouWriteOn, but please bear in mind that this contains a lot of supposition, some or all of which might well be wrong; I’ve not checked the original YouWriteOn contract so I could be wrong; and I’m not a lawyer and so none of this should be taken as legal advice.
1) Now that YouWriteOn has been dissolved (and as far as I can tell, this was a voluntary closure and not one forced upon it by any financial constraints) does it still exist as a legal or financial entity? Will it continue to operate as a sole trader? Or will it now simply cease to exist?
2) From what I remember of the original YouWriteOn contract it had no provision for transferring rights to another company. There was no information in the contract about how this would be done if the matter arose; the authors who signed up to YouWriteOn did not agree to this being a possibility. So by transferring its books to FeedARead , YouWriteOn could well be in breach of the contracts it holds with its writers.
3) I doubt that it’s legal to transfer contracts to a new company without the prior knowledge and agreement of the writers under contract, as was the case with the transfer of contracts from YouWriteOn to FeedARead .
4) I don’t think it’s legal to announce that contracts are being transferred and the people involved have to opt out if they don’t want to be included in the move. As I understand it, a specific effort to opt-in is required.
5) As writers were given the opportunity to opt out of the transfer of their books to FeedARead, what happens to the ones who remained with YouWriteOn now that YouWriteOn has been dissolved and if YouWriteOn now ceases trading?
6) I’m not aware of any writers being sent a contract for their publication by FeedARead. If new contracts have not been issued and FeedARead offers books for sale, it’s selling those books without the rights to do so.
7) Has anyone been offered the chance to negotiate the FeedARead contract? Have any industry professionals assessed the new contract and if not, are you sure it’s worth signing?
8) I’ve been told that the FeedARead contract gives higher royalties than the YouWriteOn contract: what level of royalties are on offer, and how are they calculated? Are you aware that if the royalties are calculated against net price rather than against cover price, and “net price” is not clearly defined, then it’s possible you’re going to get nothing? The original YouWriteOn contract gave royalties of 60% paid on net, but as net was not clearly defined the royalties actually paid were often below those usually paid by trade publishers.
9) What happened to the royalties owed from the last batch of sales made by YouWriteOn?
- YouWriteOn should have sent out final royalty statements to authors once the transfer of their books to FeedARead was complete, and paid them any amounts due at that stage.
- If YouWriteOn didn’t send out those final statements and royalties and it has ceased to exist as a legal entity it can no longer issue those final statements nor can it pay those royalties. Are the authors affected going to have to bear the loss on these sales?
- One can’t expect FeedARead to cover those royalties as FeedARead didn’t benefit from the sales involved.
- Did anyone receive a final statement from YouWriteOn, along with the appropriate royalty payment, before YouWriteOn closed? If not, how do you expect to be paid for those sales now YouWriteOn is closed?
- See point 5 above. What happens to the royalties due to authors who chose to remain with YouWriteOn if YouWriteOn has now ceased trading?
10) I don’t think ISBNs can be transferred from publisher to publisher unless one publisher acquires another, which doesn’t seem to be the case here, because it’s been presented as a transfer of assets—the rights to publish books, with the authors concerned having a say in what happens to their books—rather than an imprint acquisition—which would be a business takeover. If that’s so, then the FeedARead editions are going to need new ISBNs as these will be new editions of the books: who will pay for those ISBNs?
11) Publishers are legally required to lodge copies of each of their books with the British Library. I seem to remember that YouWriteOn failed to comply with this legal requirement. Is FeedARead going to do the same with the new editions it seems to be publishing, or will it too fail in this instance?
12) Amazon is currently returning a list of 718 titles when I search for books published by YouWriteOn, and just 50 from FeedARead. Are those 718 YouWriteOn titles now orphaned? Has the transfer to FeedARead stuttered to a halt? Or is the transfer still ongoing?
Those are the points that come immediately to mind, but I bet ‘ll think of more as more information comes to light. For example, the new FeedARead contract might have clauses which are contradictory or unclear, and so on.