Friday, March 28, 2008

An interesting debate

It has been a very strange week for me, and one in which I seem to keep getting my days mixed up. I am also extraordinarily tired, and as I write this, am struggling to keep my eyes open. This is largely due to the fact that I chose one of the busiest weeks of the year in which to work overtime. It was tempting to turn the offer down to work on Easter Monday, but to be honest, most of the smaller book shops that I had planned to ring were not open anyway, and so I thought that I might as well work. It turned to be a good thing that I did, as otherwise there would have been just two people in on the busiest day of the week. What with it being a market town and most of the other stores being closed, we all expected it to be dead, so we were surprised and pleased to find that we took £6000 in the 6 hours that we were open. It made the day go a lot quicker, that's for sure.

The big story in publishing today comes from Publishing News and concerns the somewhat thorny issue of whether authors should have to pay interest on repaid advances when they choose to move to a different publisher. My own opinion is that this is the thin end of a very long wedge, and the answer depends really on why the author is choosing to do this. I realise that publishers make large investments in the future careers of their authors, but it seems to me that this is a bit like asking a member of staff to repay the cost of their training when they move jobs.

If the author changes publisher because their current one is doing little to promote their books then that is not the authors fault, and it does not seem right that they should have to pay interest on repaid advances. The same can also be said if the author's editor changes jobs and they chose to go with them, for this is something that is outside of the authors control. While I can to some extent sympathise with the publisher, it seems to me that the fact that this issue is being debated at all means that the industry is not in as healthy a state as we have all been led to believe, for this is a pretty drastic measure to take.

As Philippa Milnes-Smith, President of the AAA said "If publishers do want to charge interest on repaid advances, then perhaps interest should also be added for slow payment of advances, of royalties, of subsidiary rights payments … it's a long list." Agent David Godwin echoed this, saying "I think the bottom line is that we must respect the views of writers over who they want to be published by - it's in all our interests to take those views seriously. Publishers have money, writers tend not to. I also think it's worth asking this question: do publishers pay interest on the royalties they sit on? If they don't pay interest on those sums, why should they charge interest on any other?"

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