Bad Contract Alert: Stary (aka Dreame)

This is another in my series of blog posts about serialized fiction app contracts (you can see all of them here).

This time the subject is Stary (official name: Stary Pte Ltd, based in Singapore), one of the largest and most well-established of such companies. At least sixteen apps operate under the Stary umbrella, of which Dreame is probably the best-known. Most cater to English-language readers, but there are several for readers of other languages, including Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese, and one specifically for Filipino writers.

Procedurally, the Stary apps are much like the others I’ve written about. You must sign up for the app and publish at least three chapters, with a minimum of 3,000 words, before you can apply for a contract. (You could also be invited to apply–like other serialized fiction apps, Stary aggressively solicits for content.)

If offered, the contract may be exclusive or non-exclusive. “Writer benefits” for authors with exclusive contracts include signing bonuses, completion bonuses–both paid once per story–and a Daily Update Bonus, which can be received monthly but requires authors to adhere to punishing schedules and word counts, and after three months is only available if the work is pay-to-read (no guarantees on that–see below) and earnings are more than $20 during the month.

Writers also receive an advance (the amount wasn’t specified in the contract I obtained, but based on what I’ve seen from other apps, I would guess it’s few hundred dollars), and additional revenue may be available based on reader activity and rights exploitation or licensing (see below). Also promised are “upgraded promotions”–social media features, advertising, and more–although only selected writers receive these extra perks.

I’ve long wanted to get my hands on a Stary contract, not only because the company is so dominant in the serialized fiction app space, but because of the rumors of its author-unfriendliness. And it does indeed have some really problematic clauses–although in some aspects, it’s a bit less awful than others I’ve seen.

You can view the contract, which is exclusive, here.

The grant of rights is for the full term of copyright (Clause 7.1), and authors’ ability to terminate is extremely limited (Clause 7.6).

Without a clear and easy-to-invoke procedure for authors to terminate the contract once sales and/or income have declined, a life-of-copyright grant is excessive (in any circumstance, not just here). Authors should also not be penalized by, for instance, having to pay for their freedom.

Stary’s contract does allow authors to request termination 36 months after the contract’s effective date. But there are strings attached. Total income over the 36-month period must be less than $200 for each title included in the contract (this includes “advance payments, incentives, and performance fees”, and presents a bigger challenge if your contract is for multiple works)–and you must pay back all of that income. If your work has been designated as Premium Content, you will owe double.

Is this better than no ability for the author to terminate at all, as with app contracts that make their grant of rights irrevocable? Some, I guess. But not much.

It’s an all-rights contract. From print, to digital, to translation, to dramatic, to audio, to adaptation “into any form or format,” Stary claims them all (Clauses 2 and 5.1).

Stary can also sublicense any of these rights to others “without requiring the Licensor’s prior approval” (Clause 2.2). (“Licensor” is the writer.)

Once the work is completed, writers may be able to reclaim their “Paper Publishing Rights” (Clause 3.6), though under strictly limited circumstances: only if the work has received a Premium Content designation, and only if Stary itself hasn’t exercised any of those rights.

The contract does not detail what Premium Content is or how it differs from other content, or how often it’s granted–but it seems likely that many, if not most, Stary writers will not qualify just on that basis. And even for those who do, there’s a “gotcha”. Once you’ve notified Stary of your intent to revert paper rights, this further condition must be satisfied:

In other words, Stary has an entire six months to, if it wants, make its own arrangements for paper publication, and retain its hold on those rights.

If Stary makes your work available on a subscription basis, you’ll be paid a percentage of revenue (see Clause 5.1). But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

(Subscription revenue is generated by app users who purchase coins, which can then be exchanged for access to locked chapters.) So in terms of income, your Writer Benefits may be the whole banana.

Other revenue–from Stary’s use or licensing of the huge range of rights it claims on an exclusive basis–is paid on net profit (Clause 5.1).

You get 50% in most cases. Even so, that’s a lot of deductions. It’s possible that by the time they’re calculated, little will be left over for you and Stary to split.

Payment schedules and reporting are unclear.

I’m sure I don’t need to say that clear schedules for payment and reporting are an extremely important part of any publishing contract–not just so that you know what to expect, but to hold the publisher to a timeline.

Stary guarantees payment “within 60 Working Days after the end of each Settlement Period” (Clause 5.5). But what’s a Settlement Period? Here’s all the contract has to say about that:

Okay. But where is that written agreement? Nowhere in the contract that I could discover. Nor could I find anything guaranteeing a financial accounting to accompany payment. Anyone who signed this contract would be handing over their rights for the full duration of copyright with absolutely no idea when or how often they would be paid, and no guarantee of the financial disclosure necessary to track such payment.

Stary claims first right of refusal on “any prequels and sequels to the Works produced by the Licensor during the Term” (Clause 4.6)

This is less greedy than, say, Goodnovel, which requires writers to submit any and all “future work”. But it’s still problematic. A good contract will state a time period in which the publisher must either say yes or no (to prevent the publisher from sitting on the new work indefinitely), and should also give you the ability to refuse an offer if one is made. Stary’s first right of refusal clause doesn’t include either of these qualifications.

As with similar apps, Stary wants your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard–and will penalize you if you lapse.

As mentioned above, a punishing writing schedule is required in order to receive your Daily Update Bonus: you must post a chapter a day, produce at least 50,000 words per month, and be “absent” no more than two days in that month. Additionally, if your series has been designated Premium Content and you stop updating it for more than three months, or are “uncontactable” for more than 60 days, Stary can hire someone else to take over the series (Clause 4.7).

As with most of the serialized fiction app contracts I’ve seen, there’s what amounts to a morals clause, which severely restricts your right to talk about Stary or your experience with it.

The one positive thing I can say about this contract (which is not saying much) is that it doesn’t impose huge financial penalties for author breach.

Other serialized fiction app contracts I’ve seen threaten writers with penalties of double or triple their total earned income as “liquidated damages”. Stary is somewhat kinder: in the event of author breach, it can withhold income and/or recoup losses from income due (Clause 5), or terminate the contract (Clause 7); it can also seek an injunction for anything it deems to be a breach of its confidentiality requirements (Clause 8, most of which is bolded to signify Matters of Very Great Importance). But there don’t appear to be any financial penalties piled on top of these actions.

On the other hand…check out the actions Stary can take if it deems you to have employed “improper means” to obtain your Writer Benefits: these include “Claiming damages from the writer for Stary’s losses.”

UPDATE 6/7/22: I’m posting this email I received the other day (with the author’s permission). It offers a possible alternative for those who would like to publish to Dreame without signing one of those horrid contracts.

I recently read your post regarding Stary (the serial app parent company for Dreame, amongst other apps) and wanted to say that I agree with everything you said…except one important fact:

There is a way to get to Dreame using a distributor instead of going direct, and it’s well worth doing. There is an Italian distributor out there called StreetLib (like Draft2Digital, Smashwords, or PublishDrive, but because they’re out of Italy, most people haven’t heard of them) that can get you to Dreame. This is how I get to this serial app, and is what I highly.recommend doing. Instead of having to sign a questionable contract (to say the least!) and working directly with Dreame, you can instead work with StreetLib, and they can be the ones to deal with Dreame.

When going through StreetLib, you get paid much better than you would if you were to go direct (not usually the case when choosing to use a distributor!) and there are no right’s grabby clauses to worry about.

I have regularly made more on Dreame (via StreetLib) than I have with any other serial app company; unlike KISS or Radish, Dreame pays monthly; and uploading to StreetLib is as easy as uploading to any distributor (instead of having to do funky formatting or a completely different cover like you do with other serial apps).

I highly recommend using StreetLib to get to Dreame, and while you’re at it, there are lots of other small storefronts that you’d never publish to otherwise, that you can reach via SL. Every little bit counts, and if you’re going to be wide, why not, right?

Here’s the sign-up link for StreetLib for easy reference: https://auth.streetlib.com/signup

Enjoy!

Erin Wright
Moderator of Wide for the Win Facebook group

26 Comments

  1. Dreame and similar apps are also notorious in fandom circles for stealing artworks and slapping them on any book they please. No payment, no credit, not even a request to use, just out and out theft.

    1. Yeah I see those on Facebook all the time. One particular one kept getting reposted, an alpha/beta werewolf story that featured a Harry Potter fan art I think. People kept pointing out it was stolen.

        1. If that was meant for me…that’s because I haven’t seen a Stary non-exclusive contract. With similar apps and platforms, though, the exclusive and non-exclusive contracts are mostly identical.

  2. I got an offer from Dreame a year or more ago and when I looked into it it seemed kind of sketchy. But these companies must be having success since Amazon made its own version with Kindle Vella.

  3. That StreetLib website sounds like a good plan! I’ll have to research to make sure they are legit. I did check out their distributors and Yep! Stary is there. Sadly, I didn’t see any of the other culprits up there (Goodnovel, Webnovel). Stary is still shady, but it seems to be doing better then some of these other ones. Still, if this StreetLib thing is correct its probably worth it going directly through them.

  4. I don’t even know where to start. Let me just make it clear, stay away from Stary. I have cried too many tears because of them. I saw a fifty percent profit share there, I don’t know if I saw it right but it’s 8% . I won’t even say much because I will start crying again but, if you are looking for a platform to publish your work in, look somewhere else.

  5. I wish I found this before signing a contract with this scam company. I already have contracts with them and for the termination, this is what was written.

    7.5 Where the total revenue derived by the Licensor from this Agreement is less than US$200 for each title after thirty-six (36) months from the Effective Date have elapsed, the Licensor may terminate this Agreement by giving the Licensee written notice and upon fulfilling the following conditions:
    7.5.1 the Licensor shall refund all monies paid by the Licensee under this Agreement, including but not limited to advance payments, insurance fees, incentives and performance fees;

    My question is, is this clause only applicable if I voluntarily request for termination? It has been 24 months since I signed a contract with them and so far I have only reached about $158 income with them. I don’t know if I understood this clause correctly and is now overthinking. If I don’t terminate the contract, that means I don’t pay anything to them right? My works are already completed. I have stopped writing there. My only worry now is if I reach the 36th month and still not able to generate $200. I’m broke and I can’t pay them twice the money they paid me.

    1. Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice. But in my opinion, Clause 7.5 applies only to a request for termination. In other words, you’re right: you don’t owe them anything unless you ask to terminate your contract.

      Out of curiosity, can you share a breakdown of your income–how much is sign-on bonuses, completion bonuses, etc., and how much (if any) is royalties or revenue share? My hunch is that the average writer on these platforms earns very little, but I don’t have a lot of data to really confirm that. Email me if you prefer not to answer publicly: beware@sfwa.org.

    1. None of them. I’ve seen just one with an okay contract (Readict) but all the other contracts I’ve seen (more than I’ve written about on this blog) have been pretty terrible.

  6. Hello. I started writing for Stary in 2021 Aug, and have completed thus far around 9 books. Was not an exclusive writer, nor a premium one and haven’t been writing for them since April, but I did sign that contract for all of my books. I was wondering if there is any problem if I just let it be like this. I don’t want to terminate the contracts, and have not had any interaction with Stary for months, so is there any problem if I just let it be?

    1. This is just an opinion (not legal advice)–but since you’ve completed the books, I think you’re fine if you just let them be. If you want to publish them elsewhere, though, you should check your contract carefully to make sure it’s okay.

  7. Ms. Strauss,
    You say that Readict is the only decent contract seen. My question is if you include publishing with Amazon in this assessment. I realize it is not a reading app specifically, but I feel it may have its own demons.

    1. I take it you’re asking about Amazon KDP (as opposed to Amazon Publishing)? If so, KDP is really not at all similar to serial reading apps like Stary or GoodNovel; among other things, it allows you to choose your list price, pays a straightforward percentage of actual sales (as opposed to some complicated formula based on advertising or page reads), provides easily accessible sales and payment tracking, makes no claims on subsidiary rights or successor works, offers the option of distributing beyond the Amazon platform, allows the author to cancel at will–and, while it retains the unilateral right to cancel anyone’s account and/or remove a work from sale, does not impose crazy financial penalties for breach.

      You do need to read and understand the entire Terms of Service, be aware of Amazon’s content guidelines, and understand that Amazon can and will remove your work from sale or cancel your account for violations of those guidelines (which it sometimes does capriciously, and is often not at all transparent about why or what’s needed to remedy the situation). There are other issues as well, such subjecting disputes to arbitration and a prohibition on class actions. But KDP is a very different setup, with very different terms and implications, from apps like Readict and GoodNovel.

  8. I recently applied for a contract, but after reading this blog, I’m having doubts. I just tried deleting my completed stories, but I guess I have to wait until I receive the contract. I no longer want to sign, and hopefully I will be given the option to delete my content.

  9. I have several books under contract with Dreame and have generally had a positive experience. I declined an advance and I’ve never done any of their other writing incentives because of how they structure the contract. I sign each book individually because of the 36 month rule. It is challenging to figure out if you’re getting the proper share of your book revenue. I’ve basically given up trying to get the math to make sense.

    I am concerned about several changes recently that make the platform less writer friendly. Plus, it is challenging to get promotion unless you can get a book to somehow break into their top 50 algorithm. (Still can’t figure out how that works.)

    When you get promotion, it’s a little nuts. I went from about 150 “reads” a day (again don’t know what that means…a chapter? Clicking into the book?) to over 1,000.

    I signed never thinking I would see a penny, but it’s been a little bit of fun side money for a hobby. I’m definitely checking out StreetLib because I am concerned if I ever needed to get out of my contracts.

  10. Hello, English is not my first language so I don’t fully understand the terms. I have a question about the termination. I have a story on Dreame but unfortunately it did not do well. It has been less than 36 months (I posted it Summer 2021). If I asked to terminate to contract, would I still have to pay back the money I received from daily update incentives?

    1. Assuming that the language in your contract is the same as in the ones I’ve seen, you don’t have the right to request termination until after the 36 months have passed–and only if your total income over that period of time has been less than $200. The contract language that I’ve seen does require you to pay back 100% of the income you’ve received.

      From what I’m hearing from Stary/Dreame authors who are trying to terminate their contracts, some of them are encountering quite a bit of reluctance from their editors, even where they meet the requirements. So there seems to be a case-by-case approach.

      If you do ask for termination, would you comment here or email me to let me know what happens? Thanks.

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