Lately I’ve been hearing from writers who’ve been solicited by one or another of two companies offering to distribute their books to Webnovel, a Wattpad-like platform based in Asia: EMP Entertainment and A&D Entertainment. (Note: there are a number of companies with similar names focused on concert invites, event scheduling, and DJ services.) (UPDATE: See the bottom of this post for a roundup and evaluation of additional serialized fiction platforms and apps.)
EMP and A&D are both based in Singapore, and both are just 11 months old (which raises interesting questions about whether they’re really different companies, though their contracts differ enough to suggest that they are). They present themselves as Webnovel partners–and, apparently, sometimes as Webnovel itself–authorized to offer non-exclusive contracts that allow authors to continue to publish on other platforms (such as Wattpad, where both companies are actively approaching writers) if they choose. (UPDATE: info I’ve seen since publishing this post suggests that Webnovel has contracted with these companies to recruit writers for its platform, allowing them to use their own contracts.)
I’ve seen numerous examples of each contract…and they are not author-friendly, to put it mildly. Nor are they truly non-exclusive.
Here’s an example of an EMP solicitation. In addition to Webnovel, EMP promises to distribute writers’ work to several other platforms.
Here’s the contract. Substantial problems include:
– The grant of rights is “irrevocable” (Clause 4.1). EMP can terminate it at will or for breach (Clauses 9.1-9.5), but there’s no option for the author to do so.
– Also in Clause 4.1, the grant of rights is said to be “non-exclusive”. However, this is appears to be the case only to allow for already-published versions of the work, because any new publication is severely limited by Clauses 4.2 and 10.1, which make any additional licenses subject to EMP’s written consent, and directly contradicted by Clause 4.7, which prohibits authors from selling the work to third parties during the term of the agreement.
– Clause 4.7 includes what amounts to a perpetual claim on the work by EMP, since, even after the contract has been terminated, authors must allow EMP to match any offer for a subsequent sale, and can’t complete a subsequent sale unless EMP signs off on it. (My highlighting.)
– There’s what amounts to an ethics clause (Clause 4.3), which requires authors to “uphold the reputation of EMP Entertainment” and decrees that they “shall
not engage in any activities which in the opinion of EMP Entertainment, reasonably held,
may be harmful to the reputation of EMP Entertainment or its interests.” Companies can and do abuse such clauses–something that’s made even easier when the terms are as vague as they are here.
– Authors receive 50% of “net revenue”, which sounds good until you realize that it’s actually net profit:
These “total expenses” are not detailed anywhere in the contract, so authors have no idea of what they are, or how much they may reduce the amount on which royalties are calculated. (Payment is monthly, with a US$200 threshold.)
Here’s part of A&D’s solicitation. Unlike EMP, A&D promises distribution on Webnovel only, with various conditions attached.
Here’s A&D’s contract. In my opinion, it’s even worse than EMP’s.
– The grant of rights (Clause 3) is, basically, all rights forever. Writers must grant “any and all intellectual property rights in and to the Work” via “a worldwide, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, freely transferable and sublicensable license of the entire copyright subsisting in the Work.” Whether A&D actually intends to take possession of copyright is not clear (despite the wording I’ve quoted, other language in the contract is ambiguous), but the duration of the grant is clear: life of copyright.
– Like EMP, A&D seriously qualifies the supposed non-exclusivity of their license. A&D’s Power of Attorney authorization forbids authors to exercise the granted rights without written permission:
Also, writers who want to maintain existing work on other platforms, such as Wattpad, must give Webnovel most favored nation status by publishing to Webnovel first, and by pausing or unpublishing previously published content to make sure that Webnovel is always several chapters ahead.
– Did I mention that A&D requires authors to grant power of attorney? (See the last pages of the contract). There is absolutely zero reason for any publisher or platform to require this.
– Per Clause 9, which covers termination, the author has the right to terminate the contract only in the event of breach by A&D (including failure to pay royalties). A&D, by contrast, can terminate at will–and, if it deems various kinds of breach by the author, can impose onerous provisions.
In Clause 9.1, for example, “breach” includes failing to deliver work on time or to A&D’s satisfaction. If after “three reminders” the writer still can’t satisfy, A&D can terminate the contract and bill the author for “all losses suffered in that connection, including but not limited to additional expenses incurred by Party A such as notary fees, attorney fees, accreditation fees, litigation fees, and travel fees.”
Here’s another example. Not only must the writer compensate A&D for “losses”, they must return 50% of earned income.
(UPDATE 11/2/22: The most recent iteration of A&D’s contract–which is mostly identical to the one linked above–increases the penalties in Clause 9.2, 9.3, and 9.4 to 200% of earned income.)
– As with EMP, author royalties are paid on net profit.
It’s not stated anywhere in the contract what those “other costs” might be.
UPDATE: I’m hearing from a lot of writers who signed with EMP or A&D, and then found this blog post and are wondering about how to get free. As I’ve detailed above, there is no provision for termination by the author in either of these contracts. So there is no way for authors to simply cancel.
Instead, I’ve been suggesting that authors consider contacting the companies and asking to be released. While initially the companies seemed willing to grant at least some such requests, more recently I’ve heard from writers who say they’ve been told no.
UPDATE: A&D (or AnD as it also seems to call itself) has published a rebuttal to this post…sort of, since it doesn’t address any of the points I’ve made above, and really just boils down to “mean people are saying we’re bad, but we’re really not, we promise!”
UPDATE 11/10/22: Since I published this post, I’ve seen numerous examples of the A&D non-exclusive contract. They are all essentially identical to the one analyzed above. However, a small recent change has made the penalties for breach considerably more punitive, increasing the amount authors have to pay from 50% of all income to 200% of all income. Here’s how Clause 9.3 reads now:
UPDATE 11/22/22: I’ve just seen an exclusive contract from A&D. It’s almost entirely identical to the non-exclusive one, except that the punishment for breach is slightly lighter: 100% of author income, rather than 200%.
A lot of companies are jumping on the serialized fiction app bandwagon. Many other “monetize your writing” chapter-by-chapter publishing platforms are actively soliciting authors on Wattpad and elsewhere. Unlike EMP and A&D, these companies aren’t distributors; participating authors publish direct to the companies’ platforms and apps. However, concerns about terms and contract language seem to be similar.
– Webnovel (sometimes dubbed “the Wattpad of Asia”). I’ve seen a number of its solicitations, and though I haven’t yet seen a contract (Webnovel offers both exclusive and non-exclusive contracts), online discussions by authors who publish on the platform suggest that it has problems along the lines of those discussed above. (UPDATE: I’ve finally managed to get my hands on a Webnovel contract, and it’s not good.)
– iReader is a serialized fiction app that’s soliciting writers with non-exclusive contract offers. It’s a good deal more professional-seeming than some of the others mentioned here, and, also unlike some of the others, its representatives are willing to answer questions and even do a little negotiating. Its contract is also less predatory than many. Even so, there are issues, including net profit royalties, a most favored nation clause that could limit non-exclusivity, and no option for termination by the author (although the grant term is limited to 5 years).
– Readict/VitalTek. This company asks writers to provide a sample of their work, which they’ll display for a couple of weeks to gauge reader feedback and gather “data”, whatever that means (here are the Terms and Conditions of submission). At the end of that period, they’ll decide whether they want to offer a contract, which can be exclusive or non-exclusive.
Writers may receive a flat licensing fee (supposedly as much as US$10,000, although in correspondence, a company representative acknowledged that there is a “range” starting at US$300), a signing bonus of $100, and “massive exposure”. No royalties or other payment (the contract is very specific about this). Readict also rewards referrals: if you get “peer writers” to sign up with the platform you can receive a bonus of “up to $500”. Since there’s no revenue sharing with Readict–whatever you get on the front end is it–there would seem to be a substantial incentive for Readict writers to solicit on their own.
I’ve seen one of Readict’s non-exclusive contracts, and while it’s significantly more author-friendly than A&D or EMP, there are some issues. The company makes a claim on a large range of subsidiary rights, including translation and film rights. The grant term is limited–years (variable, depending on the offer), rather than perpetual, but authors have no right of termination. Readict can edit at will, and if the writer fails to turn in a complete work, can hire someone else to complete it. There’s also a waiver of class action rights.
– Anystories/Read ASAP Ltd. invites writers who’ve uploaded least 30,000 words to apply to be a “signed writer”. If accepted, they may receive an exclusive or non-exclusive contract, and will earn monetary “rewards” based on how many words they upload per day (at least 1,500) and how many words their story contains (at least 80,000). The schedule is pretty grueling: writers must “update daily with a maximum of 3 days absent allowed per calendar month”. Writers with exclusive contracts are eligible for an additional “cash prize.”
– Hinovel provides very little information on its website, but describes itself on its Facebook page as “a mobile reading app with massive excellent novels and perfect reading experience”. It is currently soliciting authors with publishing offers, offering two models: “an amount of advance payment” plus a 15-30% royalty share once the advance is recouped; and a 30-35% royalty share with no advance.
The Hinovel contract is less author-unfriendly than others I’ve seen, notably in that it has a limited 5-year term rather than being “perpetual” (though authors have no right of termination). But that’s not to say it’s free of concerns. The term “digital copyright” is used when what’s really meant is “digital rights;” the contract does make clear that Hinovel isn’t demanding a transfer of copyright, but it’s an odd confusion of terminology, and I don’t know if it might pose issues at some point. Authors should also note that they will only get paid once the entire work is uploaded (so if they plan on doing it chapter by chapter, it’ll be a while before they’re eligible to get any income), and that there’s what amounts to a morals clause, which could affect what authors could say publicly about the company or their experience with it. Finally, disputes are subject to arbitration. I don’t know about the law in China, but in the USA, when you sign a contract that includes an arbitration clause, you waive your right to go to court.
– SofaNovel/Vlight I haven’t seen a contract, but otherwise this one is very similar to the rest: exclusive or non-exclusive contract, signing bonus, income from “rewards”. Based in Singapore, SofaNovel was launched–like EMP and A&D–in November 2019. Reviews of the app are mixed.
– Dreame/STARY Pte. Ltd. also also does business as FicFun and Ringdom. These sites’ setup is similar to Anystories: writers submit at least 30,000 words, after which they can apply for an exclusive contract and “rewards” depending on word counts and updates. To claim the rewards, they must update daily, with only two absences allowed per month. The STARY platforms allow fanfic but say they don’t sign it.
Other than Webnovel, the STARY ventures have been around the longest of these companies, and there’s a fair bit of discussion about them, some of it not very favorable (among cited issues are poor quality/poorly edited stories and aggressive solicitation). Although the grant term is limited (5 years), snippets of the Dreame contract that have been posted online (see, for instance, this 2018 blog post and this Reddit thread) include problematic provisions, including net profit payment, no option for author termination, onerous penalties for author breach (return of all earned income, remuneration of company “losses”), and the use of the term “Digital Copyright” to describe what otherwise reads like a conventional (if sweeping) rights license. (UPDATE: You can see my analysis of the Dreame/Stary contract here.)
– Goodnovel, Bravonovel, Babelnovel, Elfnovel, Webfic, NovelsLite, and dozens more. Primarily based in Singapore and Hong Kong, most seem to function similarly to those above. While not all may have terrible contracts, given the many that do there’s reason to be very careful with any solicitation or offer you may receive.
Feel free to email me if you’d like me to take a look at any contract and offer non-legal (I’m not a lawyer) feedback.