D Publishing: Dymocks’ New Self-Pub Service

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, Dymocks, an Australian bookselling chain, announced the launch of D Publishing, a electronic and POD self-publishing service.

Like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Dymocks is a major book vendor. Unlike Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it doesn't have its own ereading device--so D Publishing does not resemble the free, direct-to-device self-pub services offered by Amazon and B&N. Instead, it's more like the middleman self-pub services provided by AuthorHouse and its ilk. For a fee of $499 to $699, you can publish a print book, an ebook, or both (all prices are in Australian dollars). Additional charges for cover creation and setup bring the price as high as $997.

The pricing isn't horrible, by middleman self-pub standards (you can pay much more for a basic package from some services). But there are certainly better deals out there--especially since the only distribution you get is through Dymocks' catalog, Dymocks online, and Google eBooks. Even AuthorHouse et al. do better than that.

But the real problem with D Publishing is its contract, which authors must sign if they want access to an ISBN and what limited distribution Dymocks offers (you can also use D Publishing as a formatter or a printer, in which case the contract isn't required).

With very rare exceptions, self-publishing services' author contracts are nonexclusive, terminable at will, encumber only primary publishing rights, and make no claim on subsidiary rights.

Dymocks' contract, by contrast, is exclusive (all the bolding below is mine):
The scope of the Licence granted to D Publishing is as follows:

(1) sole and exclusive licence to distribution of the Work through the Core Distribution Channels identified from time to time on the Rate Card and Nominated Secondary Distribution Channels;
You cannot terminate the contract unless there is a breach, or unless Dymocks fails to publish:
Either party may by one month’s notice in writing to the other party terminate this Agreement without prejudice to any claims outstanding or any sub-licences properly granted in the event of a breach by the other party of a material term of this Agreement that has not been remedied within 28 days of receiving notice of the breach...

The Author may terminate this Agreement if D Publishing has not published the Work within 28 days of being requested to do so by notice in writing from the Author.
Dymocks, by contrast, can terminate at any time:
D Publishing may, at its discretion and at any time, terminate this Agreement for convenience on giving 30 days’ notice in writing to the Author.
In effect, this is a life-of-copyright contract--for a self-publishing service. And, not content with exclusively locking up your primary publishing rights for an inordinately long period of time, the contract makes a sweeping claim on subsidiary rights as well:
The Author grants to D Publishing a licence...to exercise, including by way of sub-licence, all rights in the Work other than its first volume and electronic publication rights (Subsidiary Rights). Without limiting the preceding, Subsidiary Rights include:

(a) anthology and quotation rights
(b) condensation e.g. magazines, newspapers and ezines
(c) radio and TV straight reading
(d) sound recording
(e) reprint under sub licence
(f) adaptation in other media, including but not limited to internet, apps or other software, collectively, ‘Licence’.
These terms would be a problem if you encountered them in the contract of any small publisher. From a self-publishing service, they are truly awful. And they're just the start. Dymocks can also change the terms of the contract at will. It reserves the right to publish tie-in editions, if a film or other media adaptation is made. The royalty structure is confusing (and, from the looks of it, actual royalties will be low). The payment terms for subsidiary rights sales aren't adequately defined. Royalties are paid and accounted only twice a year. And there's a confidentiality clause that could preclude authors from sharing sales information.

Believe it or not, this is an amended contract. D Publishing withdrew its original contract in response to criticism from the Australian literary community--such as this, from Steve Rossiter of the Australian Literature Review, and this, from contracts expert Alex Adsett. However, according to Rossiter,
The substantive change to the agreement is negligible. The major change has been to bury key details in less direct language and disperse that key information piecemeal across more clauses. This may make key details less obvious to inexperienced authors until they have accepted the agreement but doesn't address the problems.
Will Dymocks heed the continuing criticism and make real changes? Steve Rossiter reports that Michael Allara of D Publishing has promised to release another amended contract in the coming days. Until then, I think that authors would be wise to avoid D Publishing.

EDITED 12/21/11 TO ADD: The D Publishing contract has been taken down (hopefully in preparation for a new and better one), but a PDF of the version I was commenting on above is available here.

EDITED 1/10/12 TO ADD: D Publishing has overhauled and re-posted its publishing agreement. Changes include making the grant of subsidiary rights non-exclusive, and making the contract term 10 years (still much too long--plus, the contract renews automatically unless the author remembers to cancel). Most of the terms I've objected to--including the exclusive grant of primary publishing rights and the confusing royalty structure--remain.

Steve Rossiter agrees that the changes don't go far enough.

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