Today is Independence Day here in the United States. I like the not-so-subtle irony of giving you (as I promised) my full thoughts on the latest Dorchester twist today of all days. And here they are, after the cut.
As noted, while I was on vacation, Publisher’s Weekly reported that Amazon “has made a bid to acquire the assets of the company and, as part of the sale, Amazon will pay all outstanding royalties owed to Dorchester authors. Through the deal, Amazon will acquire 1,900 active titles in many of the genres in which it already publishes, including romance and westerns.” The article also reiterated what I’ve been reporting for the last two years – that Dorchester is not paying authors, “yet they continue to pocket receipts for e-books and foreign royalties.” Amazon states “We want all authors to be happy being a part of the Amazon Publishing family going forward and we have structured our bid so that we will only take on authors who want to join us. As part of this philosophy, if we win the bid, Dorchester has committed to revert all titles that are not assigned to us.”
Now, as I said earlier in the week, I’m cautiously optimistic about this deal. While this move does not impact authors such as myself, Bryan Smith, J.F. Gonzalez, or others who already managed to get their rights reverted and have gone on to other publishers or begun self-publishing, it does help the vast majority of former Dorchester authors who have not been so lucky (such as Stacy Dittrich, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Mary SanGiovanni, Sarah Pinborough, Robert Dunbar, and hundreds more). There are, however, some very important questions which need to be answered before those authors celebrate.
1. Amazon states they will acquire 1,900 active titles. That’s only a portion of what Dorchester illegally retains the rights to. If these are mostly from the romance and western lines (of which Amazon has found success) what happens to the horror, thriller, science-fiction and other lines Dorchester still holds?
2. Amazon states they will pay all outstanding royalties owed to authors. But will this be for all authors or only for those authors who choose to publish through Amazon? And how far back will those royalties be calculated? Numerous sources state that Dorchester was misreporting royalties long before its financial plight became public knowledge. And what of authors whose work Dorchester continued to illegally sell, even after those authors had obtained the reversion of their rights? Will Amazon financially compensate them?
3. Amazon states that as part of this deal, “Dorchester has committed to revert all titles that are not assigned to us.” How will this be enforced? I mean, Dorchester has committed to all sorts of things, but haven’t actually followed through on those commitments. They were committed to reverting rights but they didn’t. They were committed to paying authors, but they didn’t. What assurances can Amazon give authors who choose not to publish with them that Dorchester will suddenly do the right thing after several years of lies and malfeasance?
These are questions that must be answered. As I said, I’m cautiously optimistic for those authors still trapped in this situation, but I don’t think they should pop the champagne just yet.
Yesterday, I received my monthly royalty check and statement from Deadite, who have published a good portion of my Dorchester backlist. In a little over a year, I have earned more money from Deadite on those same titles than I did from Dorchester in seven years. I want my fellow authors to be able to enjoy that same independence and success, and I hope this new development eventually leads to that, regardless of whether they choose to publish through Amazon or simply obtain their rights and do something else. But I suspect this is going to get messy and it might be a while before that happens. That’s why it’s important that we as a community continue to stick together. In the last three years you’ve seen the horror and romance communities come together on this Blog and elsewhere. We need to continue with that solidarity. Authors need to continue supporting each other, and fans need to continue supporting those authors.
It’s also important to remember that Dorchester is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other, bigger publishers out there who are just as capable of doing this to their authors. We need to make sure they know that, just as Dorchester found a fight on its hands, so will they all.
Happy Independence Day.
For a complete accounting and timeline of Dorchester Publishing’s malfeasance, as well as links to other sources, click here.