At BookLocker, we have a specific set of standards for vetting manuscripts. Unfortunately, not every manuscript we receive meets those standards. The authors of manuscripts we do not accept must then seek another publisher. WritersWeekly’s POD Secrets Revealed Series attempts to help authors avoid publishers who participate in business practices that we feel are unfair to authors. These practices include charging excessive fees, upselling authors on worthless services, requiring the author to surrender rights to their own work, holding an author’s production files hostage, and many other disturbing industry shenanigans.
This article is entirely my own opinion, based on my professional experience after 17 years of serving authors and book buyers in this industry, and receiving thousands of complaints from authors about print on demand and ebook services, and other unscrupulous publishing industry practices. I highly recommend you do your own independent research, and make your own determination. If you have additional thoughts, please contact me HERE. BookBaby will likely disagree that their contract clauses below are unfair. Or, perhaps they’ll do the right thing (in my opinion!), and immediately change their contract. If they do (and we certainly HOPE they do!), we’ll be sure to post an update.
We were recently contacted by an author who was unhappy with BookBaby, and wanted to move his book to BookLocker. But, after sending us his files, and discussing formatting, etc., he asked about how to terminate his contract with BookBaby. I told him to read his BookBaby contract, find the termination clause, and follow the instructions there. He found his contract, read it, and wrote me back, not at all happy with what he discovered. After writing to me, he contacted his attorney.
First, the BookBaby contract requires EXCLUSIVE rights from authors, which is ridiculous! Anyone who PAYS to have their book published should NOT give exclusive rights to anyone! Even the largest print on demand publishers have non-exclusive contracts.
Second, another clause in the contract seems to attempt to enforce the exclusivity clause…even after contract termination! Yeah, I know. I didn’t believe it when I first heard about it, either. But, here it is…
FIRST, READ THIS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY MEAN BY “AUTHOR CONTENT” –
1 (a) “Author Content” means the manuscripts, artwork, images, text, descriptive materials and other content that you have submitted to us in connection with the Services.
A FEW SHORT PARAGRAPHS LATER, THE RIDICULOUS “RIGHTS CLAUSE” APPEARS –
You hereby appoint us as your exclusive authorized representative for the sale and other distribution of the Author Content as described in this Agreement. Although you retain the right to sell the Author Content directly, you may not appoint any third parties to: (a) act as your authorized representative for distributing the Author Content to third party distributors, whether for online or physical redistribution (because online retailers such as iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc. will refuse content that may be delivered by multiple parties); or (b) distribute, publish or otherwise exploit the Author Content in any manner, including via ebooks and online or physical distribution.
(The claim about ibooks, Barnes & Noble, etc. is not exactly correct. Not sure why they used that as an explanation. More on that later in this article.)
AND, HERE’S THE PART THAT KEEPS #2 ABOVE IN FORCE EVEN AFTER TERMINATION (look at the last sentence):
4. Term and Termination:
The term of this Agreement will commence when you first access or use the Services or otherwise accept this Agreement and will continue, unless and until terminated by either you or us, upon twenty-four (24) hours written notice (the “Term”), which notice, if sent by (a) BookBaby, may be sent to you at the last e-mail address you provided to BookBaby and (b) you to BookBaby, must be sent only to the following e-mail address: (removed for this article) with the following information: (i) your username; (ii) the e mail address associated with your Account; and (iii) “Termination of Digital and Print Distribution Agreement” in the subject line of the email. You may also request removal from your account any specific Book titles previously submitted under this Agreement by sending an e-mail requesting such removal to (removed for this article) with your username, the e mail address associated with your Account, and the book title(s) for which you are requesting removal. Once you make your request to have a Book title removed, our team will begin working to remove the title, but note that it may take 4-6 weeks or longer for the titles to be removed from retail outlets around the world. Until we are able to remove such title, the rights and licenses granted under this Agreement will continue to apply to such title. Sections 1, 2, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13,14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22 will survive any termination of this Agreement for any reason.
Did you see that? Section 2 (the exclusivity section) survives termination of BookBaby’s contract. Is that enforceable? I don’t know. I hope not. Does this mean they get to keep exclusive rights to your “manuscripts, artwork, images, text, descriptive materials and other content” after your contract is terminated? Well, it sure looks like it based on the wording of the contract! Could they sue an author over it? I guess so, if they wanted to. Would they? Who knows? What I do know is a clause like that might just frighten an author so badly that they may decide to stay with BookBaby just to keep their book for sale…even if they have been unhappy with BookBaby’s service.
Did you see the other disturbing part? Their contract is in force until the titles have been “removed from all retail outlets around the world.”
Now, in case you didn’t know, even after a book is terminated, many sites will keep a listing up for that book…forever. Amazon, for example, allows people to sell used books from their site, on existing and old book pages. Also, removing old book pages can disrupt Amazon’s customers’ purchase histories. Of course, if they have any copies remaining on their shelves (including copies that may have been returned by customers, or returned by shipping companies as undeliverable), that book page will remain for sale on Amazon.com, too. (Amazon will have paid for those copies previously so no additional fees will be due to the publisher or author anyway.) Does that mean your BookBaby contract is still in force as long as Amazon has your book featured on their site? Well, based on the contract clause above, it sure appears so! This is so ridiculous, it’s laughable.
There are several BookBaby titles on Amazon that are only available through resellers now. Are the authors of these books still under contract with BookBaby just because their books are still listed in an online “retail outlet?”
Also in the contract, it says:
“Other than your right to make direct sales of the Author Content to end users and consumer, the rights granted under this Agreement are exclusive.”
So, what does that mean exactly? It looks like you can sell to the general public (the end user), like through your own website. But, you can’t list/sell your book with any other website, retailer or distributor. You’ve given all those rights up to BookBaby. Heck, based on the language above, I don’t think you can even list your book for sale on ebay. Again, you have given them the exclusive right to distribute your book. That means they’ll get a cut of every transaction. It appears you can’t have your book printed locally for sale. You can’t have it printed cheaper elsewhere. You can’t sell it yourself through Amazon. Nope, you’ve given all those rights to BookBaby, which is ludicrous. You can only sell directly to the consumer / end user yourself. And, remember, you have to buy your copies directly from BookBaby because you’ve given them exclusive rights to publish/distribute your book. You’re locked in, Baby!
So, what about that claim that ibooks and Barnes and Noble “will refuse content that may be delivered by multiple parties?” Well, that may be true if both editions of the book have the same ISBN. But, if they don’t, duplicates are definitely permitted because a new ISBN simply indicates a new/different edition of the book. And, of course online and brick and mortar stores allow different editions of the same title to be for sale. And, what about those authors who release their book under different titles to see which ones sells better? Of course, “ibooks and Barnes and Noble” allow that. If the book has a different ISBN, and different title, and perhaps even a different cover, the online bookstores are going to allow the author to list it separately. But, under BookBaby’s exclusive contract, it doesn’t look like you can do any of this.
When a publisher has an exclusive contract, and makes it difficult (or impossible) for the author to print and/or sell copies to retailers/distributors/wholesalers themselves, we call this a “forced marriage.” If BookBaby is truly providing a good service to authors, and making them happy, why are they requiring an exclusive contract? In my opinion, a good print on demand publishing services firm that keeps their authors happy DOES NOT NEED AN EXCLUSIVE CONTRACT. Good businesses that keep their customers happy shouldn’t have to force their customers to do (or not do) anything via an exclusive rights clause.
We haven’t written much about BookBaby before but we’ll be keeping a closer eye on them now. We certainly won’t be referring any more authors to this firm.
So, which firms DON’T demand exclusive rights? Look at the Print on Demand Price Comparison HERE. All firms listed there, EXCEPT BOOKBABY, have non-exclusive contracts. (BookBaby is also one of the more expensive firms on the list.) Just be careful about the firms that claim all rights to production files. More info. on that appears at the link above.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela.
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See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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