This post has been updated.
Yesterday, WEbook members received a chirpy email announcement:
That stuff about killing all the lawyers? Maybe we can let some of ‘em live.
What has changed:
– Royalties are better. Before, WEbook paid royalties of 5% of net, allocated in truly byzantine fashion among collaborators, contributors, and non-authors who provided feedback.
The allocations process has been considerably streamlined, with project leaders receiving a set percentage and the rest divided among the actual authors on a pro-rata basis. Feedbackers have been cut out of the royalty picture entirely, unless the project leader decides to cut them in. This is good.
Rather than that measly 5% of net, WEbook now promises to pay “50% of the total Net Profit for a particular calendar quarter.” 50% sounds great–but those two little words, “Net Profit,” should strike fear into any writer’s heart.
Here’s how WEbook defines Net Profit: “…all monies actually received by WEbook from WEbook’s sale of Copies of a Work published by WEbook less any applicable taxes; bad debt; returns; a 10% administrative and operational cost; and commission expenditures incurred by WEbook in making or deriving from such sales, licensing transactions, or other business dealings.” Like all net profit clauses, this has the potential to considerably reduce the author’s share–but unlike many net profit clauses, it’s reasonably straightforward and the terms seem to be clearly defined. Collaborative or anthology authors’ royalties under this new system will not be princely, but they will be significantly better than the pennies they got under the old system.
By the way, I hope the new royalty rate has been extended to the authors of WEbook’s one published project to date, the collaborative novel Pandora.
– No more option clause. Before, WEbook demanded an exclusive and restrictive publication option on any work put up for public feedback and/or ratings, ending 180 days after the ratings phase concluded. Now they just reserve the right to consider publication of books voted into the top 10%.
– No more kill fee. Before, if an author chose to remove his or her work from the site after it had been opened up for public comment and/or ratings, WEbook demanded a 2.5% share of any income the author subsequently earned from the work. This provision, happily, has been eliminated. Members can now remove work at will without penalty–subject to WEbook’s archival license.
What hasn’t changed:
– Authors must still grant WEbook a sweeping archival license. WEbook still retains “irrevocable” and “perpetual” archival rights to all content ever posted on the site, and “has no obligation to Member to disclose any aspect of how, where, and when WEbook exercises and employs the Archival License.” Years from now, your work could still be online–but you’ll have no way, other than Internet searching, to find out where or how.
– Posting comments or feedback still involves a transfer of copyright. “Write and receive reactions on anything you wish at WEbook without giving up any rights to your creative genius,” declares WEbook’s announcement of its TOU changes. Sounds groovy–but if you decide to give reactions instead of receiving them, the situation is a little different.
Each time a member posts comments or feedback on a work during the writing stage (i.e., at any point before the work is opened up for voting), the member “immediately assigns all rights, title, and interest in and to the Feedback” to the author, if it’s a single author work, or to the project leader, if it’s a collaborative work or an anthology. Once a work is put up for voting, the rights assignment goes to WEbook.
What isn’t clear:
– Must published authors still relinquish copyright? The old TOU made it clear that if WEbook decided to publish a work, authors had to transfer ownership of the work to WEbook. A copyright transfer makes a certain amount of sense for collaborative works, where authorship may not be directly attributable–but for single author works and anthologies, authors should be able to retain their copyrights.
WEbook’s new TOU makes no reference to what rights authors will have to grant, saying only that if WEbook chooses to publish a work, “the parties will have to negotiate a publishing contract with a variety of other terms.” Has WEbook re-thought its draconian copyright policy, or is it just no longer mentioning the policy in public? I can’t help wondering what surprises lurk in the WEbook publishing contract.
I’d love to see one, by the way, if anyone would like to share.
Bottom line: WEbook has definitely made things better. But there’s still cause for concern.
UPDATE 8/22/11: WEbook has changed its focus from a collaborative writing website with a major publishing component, to something more like a writing projects/manuscript display/peer critique website. Services now include
– AgentInbox (which I blogged about in Nov. 2009)–a service that lets writers submit to participating literary agents
– PageToFame–seems to be an Authonomy-like peer feedback and rating service; top rated mss. are placed in a Literary Agent showcase where participating agents can see them
– Writing Projects–online writing that can be single author or collaborative.
UPDATE 2/7/14: WEbook was sold to the owner of vanity publisher Vantage Press in 2011, and quietly closed its doors sometime in 2012, after Vantage went bankrupt. In April 2013, according to Publishers Weekly, it opened up again under new ownership. It resembles Authonomy, in that writers can post projects, get critiques and votes, and participate in a community; it also publishes high-rated projects. Agent Inbox is still available; my assessment of that service hasn’t changed.