Wednesday, March 18, 2009


                                                                    monkey type

"Canadians -- they are a docile, Zamboni-driving people who subsist on seal casserole and Molson. Their hobbies include wearing flannel, obsessing over American hegemony, exporting deadly Mad Cow disease and even deadlier Nickelback albums. You can tell a lot about a nation's mediocrity index by learning that they invented synchronized swimming. Even more, by the fact that they're proud of it." -- Matt Labash

Far more intelligent people than me have attempted to discover the reason why Canadians are so damn accommodating. We’re world champions at avoiding confrontation and trying to find compromise. The legendary “Peacekeepers” who’ll say “Sorry” when you step on our toes and even provide indexed government pensions and free financing to political parties who want to destroy our country.

I’ve always believed that like our national symbol, the Beaver, who’ll chew off his own testicles in the hope of appeasing a predator, we simply believe that by giving somebody else what they want, we get to keep living in relative peace.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Canadian Publishers trying to screw Canadian Authors out of their eBook rights. Apparently, a lot of them didn’t listen. Because this week, the Writers’ Union of Canada sent out the following to their members…


It has come to the attention of the Contracts Committee that a number of publishers have been launching electronic book and print-on-demand initiatives. These publishers are encouraging writers to participate in their projects and are offering royalties for e-book sales at rates as low as 10% of net sale price.
The Contracts Committee thinks that 15% or 25% of net or even of retail is unacceptable. The Committee’s additional concern is that these initiatives may lock up both your electronic and print rights for your book with the publisher more or less forever. We strongly recommend that, right now, you do not sign new agreements, letter agreements or addenda to current publishing agreements that authorize e-books and print-on-demand without first consulting the TWUC office.

Meanwhile, Writers’ unions around the world have begun warning their members about the potential dangers of signing over their eBook rights.

It seems this warning was required because publishers, who normally pay their writers an average of 10% of the sticker price of a book, had been successful in getting their Authors to sign over eBook rights for 10% of net profits from the sale of these electronic texts.

A percentage of Net. Monkey Points.

Look, I know people who write books in this country are the SMART writers, the REAL writers when compared to those of us who toss off the transitory, mostly junk TV and Movie stuff. But you Author types should listen to us, because we know all about “Monkey Points”, not to mention the whole argument you’re being sold that nobody really knows if there’s any money to be made from ePublishing.

You see, that’s what they told us last year when we went on strike for our New Media rights.


In the film industry, “Monkey Points” refers to production companies offering talent a percentage of net profits as opposed to a percentage of a film's gross. It was coined by Eddie Murphy during the “Coming to America” lawsuit launched by Art Buchwald and detailed in “Fatal Subtraction” a book every writer who wants to make a living from writing should read. They’re called “Monkey Points” because you sit there like a Monkey while the production company does its creative accounting, soon discovering that your $400 Million at the Box office feature that was produced for less than $1 Million still hasn’t made a dime.

If you’re lucky, they’ll toss you a banana to keep you quiet. Or Telefilm will tell you Privacy Laws prevent them from sharing the earning statements of your own screenplay.

Now, it seems, Canadian publishers want to use this system with their Authors. And while I understand that Authors have a certain loyalty to their publishers,(The flashy parties, the non-cash bars, the promise of free tickets to the Giller Awards) you SMART writers need to start thinking about what those publishers are doing for you these days and whether that’s worth -- well, basically working for nothing in the years to come.

A couple of Canadian Authors told me some things that really surprised me this week. Did you know that the celebrated “Book Tour” is virtually a thing of the past? Unless you’re in Oprah’s Club, Canadian publishers can barely get their Authors a CBC radio interview, let alone a cross-Canada tour of Public Libraries to help sell the latest opus.

Luckily, they don’t pay the CBC for those interviews, or somebody might think CBC Radio is already running commercials.

However, apparently, some DO have to shell out some cash for bookstore shelf space.

I’m told that Chapters charges Canadian publishers up to $4 for every book that is stacked and featured on one of those little tables at the front door of the store. In radio, this kind of thing used to be called “Payola” and got DJ’s put in jail. But apparently it’s all business-as-usual when it comes to books.

And admit it, some part of you already suspected that Heather didn’t really read all those “Picks”.

Maybe that shelf space rental fee is what’s driving Canadian publishers to get their Authors off the “Sticker Price” gravy train and into the brown banana net points pay schedule. How else are they going to be able to afford future book “promotion”?

And all you book types need to understand that fairly soon eBook revenue will be the only revenue you’ve got.

In the same way that Canadian TV networks are struggling, today’s main stream media conglomerates, the owners of most of those publishing houses, facing a difficult economy and motivated by profit rather than the intrinsic value of the work Authors create -- will begin to de-construct, leaving the people who own your copyright to fend for themselves.

Authors, like screenwriters, need to become their own publishers or producers, foregoing today’s fees and advances for the Lion’s share of the Gross proceeds of their work.

We’ve all got to stop giving away what we create to support the people who can’t really help us anymore, and who are now facing extinction unless they can get their hands on a little more of the cash that has previously gone to the actual Creatives.

In my business, it’s becoming more common for producers, agents and deal-makers to insist they deserve “Created By” credits for merely setting up the meetings that lead to a network sale. These people used to be content with the fees they’d earn simply by being attached to a “Go” project. But now, those fees aren’t as large as they used to be -- but their sense of entitlement has not diminished.

As I’ve said many times, we’re moving toward a time when Content really is King and the Content creators will be the ones holding all the cards. The people who used to eat at your table while making you believe you were sitting at theirs soon won’t have a reason to be in the business -- unless they still control your work.

There will soon only be ONE revenue stream. A digital one.

The music industry is rapidly converting from a CD based model to one where all music is downloaded or burned for customers on demand. The same will be true of film and television. And it’s coming faster than most believe in publishing.

How long before Kids stop lugging massive back-packs of textbooks to school in favor of an iTouch that can hold their entire high school curriculum, along with all the reference texts, weblinks, audio and video their education requires?

That little electronic code Publishers are claiming might not earn any money will soon be the only version of your book or collection of short stories there is. Even if people never lose that tactile desire to curl up with a good book, they’ll get that book from a digital code.

If you haven’t heard of an “Espresso” printer yet, you soon will. I first ran across one a couple of months ago in Las Vegas. Total time from selecting a title to holding a book literally “hot” off the press – about 15 minutes. They’re currently widely used in Australia and soon, they will be in every airport concourse, shopping mall and probably Starbucks here. They work like this…


So don’t sell your eBook rights for even the standard 10% of sticker price – and for God sake, don’t sell them for Monkey Points.


deborah Nathan said...

OMFG!! Great essay today, Jim. From one monkey to another.

wcdixon said...

Freakin' sweet post my friend.