Friday, 17 May 2013

DC Thomson Contracts

There's been a lot of discussion about the new DC Thomson contracts in various corners of Facebook recently, and I thought it time we discussed it openly here on this blog. I was actually alerted to the new contract some time back by a writer who asked if I'd raise the topic here, but at the time I only knew of two writers who'd received it, so I didn't put anything on the blog.

I've now seen a copy of the contract. It wasn't sent directly to me by DCT - I haven't submitted anything to any DCT publication for a year or more (because I've been writing novels rather than short stories) - but was  emailed to me by a concerned writer. (For info: DC Thomson publish My Weekly, People's Friend, The Weekly News, and pocket novels.)

Firstly, having read the contract very carefully, I don't think it's as scary as some people think it is. I should make it clear at this point that I am not a lawyer, but I think the contract is pretty clear.

This, I think, is going to be a long post because the best way I can put this across and hopefully set people's minds at rest, is to quote parts of the contract. I know that not everyone has seen it yet, so this is probably the best way to make sure we're all talking about the same thing.

OK, in the covering letter, there is the following paragraph which might ring alarm bells, but DO read to the end of this blog post before getting too hot under the collar:
The full terms are explained in the following pages, with several key points highlighted below.
- You retain the copyright to your content
- You are granting us the right to publish your content in any media format (eg on digital platforms) and in any country
- You are granting us the right to reuse your content

Well, my reaction on reading that was 'eek!' BUT, now let's look at clauses from the actual contract (my bolds):
The Company (DCT) requires and you agree to grant the Company the following rights...
1. The exclusive right to first publication... anywhere in the world in any media, languages or geographies
2...... the non-exclusive, transferable right to reuse, republish and re-transmit ... in any media anywhere in the world and without further payment to you.

And there are further clauses, all containing that word non-exclusive.

If you are anything like me you are now scratching your head and wondering about what exactly exclusive and non-exclusive mean in this context. There is a glossary of terms on page 3 of the contract:
Exclusive - means the Company is the only one entitled to perform the action referred to.
Non-exclusive  - means that both the Company and you have the right to perform the actions referred to and you can also grant third parties the right to perform the actions.

Clause 1 of the contract is selling exclusive rights to first publication - but that is what we have always sold to them (ie First British Serial Rights). The only difference is that they are effectively saying first publication might not necessarily be in Britain. I think also, it means that you would need to wait until the story's been actually published in the UK, before submitting it abroad (which I believe most writers always did anyway, out of courtesy).

Clause 2 -  to me this means that you CAN still submit stories bought by DCT to markets abroad (eg Australia), because DCT have only requested non-exclusive second rights. And you can also republish your stories in ebooks because DCT have only requested non-exclusive digital rights.

So my reading of this contract, as a non-legal but well-educated and generally pretty sensible kind of person, is that while you can still resell to Australia, Scandinavia, South Africa and and other market you might find, and you can include your stories in anthologies and epublish them, DCT are also allowed to do these same things. So, for example (and I am guessing here), People's Friend annuals could in future be filled with reprints of stories DCT have previously published, with no extra payment to the author. Or, a My Weekly Online magazine might appear, containing stories they've previously bought. Or, fiction specials might be published as Kindle (or other) ebooks. None of which stops you from reselling or epublishing.

Do we all feel a little bit better now? I hope so. However, there are a couple of clauses in this contract I don't much like, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention them. Here's another clause copied from the contract:
8. In the case of a collection of your contributions where you are the sole or majority author in book form, you commit to offering the Company the right to first refusal to publish any such collection in any format... such an arrangement would be subject to new contractual terms...

I think this means if you decide to republish as a Kindle ebook your back catalogue of stories previously sold to My Weekly under this contract, you would have to first OK it with DCT. That's a bit limiting.

And the other one I don't like, which affects writers of pocket novels and serials:
Joint Contributions: If we make any changes to or jointly contribute to a Contribution [ie your story/novel] you will not be entitled to use the jointly created or edited version of such Contribution yourself, or authorise any third parties to use it without the Company's prior written consent.

Many people who write pocket novels and serials resell them to Ulverscroft to be published as large print books. Ulverscroft require you to send them a published copy of your book or serial. The clause above means you can't do this. You can still send them your original copy, the version you submitted to DCT, but any editorial changes made by DCT won't be included in that version. Whether Ulverscroft would accept this remains to be seen - they would have to edit and proof-read themselves, and perhaps (I don't know at first hand) don't have the resources to do this.

OK, enough from me. Has this helped? Are you still worried? What do you think of it all? Feel free to comment anonymously, but please, be polite and professional at all times. Some fiction editors, including those from DCT publications, subscribe to this blog. I'm sure I speak for all womag writers when I say I would love them to confirm that my reading of the contract is correct (or otherwise).


Karen said...

Very well put, Kath, and thank you for clarifying.

Kath said...

I think a lot of writers do actually submit to other countries as well as UK markets at the same time, Kath. I know I did when I was subbing regularly.
The other thing, as far as the non-exclusive issue is concerned, is: would, say, an Australian mag want the second rights to your story if they know you've sold to DCT and they have no idea what the timeline might be for a second or third - maybe electronic - use of your story by DCT? And in the long term would DCT be that thrilled to buy stories from writers who they know also target overseas markets? I don't know.
When I sell a story I like to know exactly when and where it'll be published so that I can plan future submissions accordingly. So, I might go for WW and Scandinavia first, then a DCT one and Australia, but at each point I'd know exactly what I'd potentially committed to. Now, with DCT, that story could pop up anywhere anytime. Or have I got that wrong? I'm happy to be corrected!

Bernadette said...

I haven't seen the contract so I amy be misinterpreting, but from what you have said it appears to me that while DCT are not preventing you from submitting overseas, they may well be preventing you from selling overseas. Other editors may not wish to buy a story given that DCT have the rights to publish in their territories and/or online at any time.
How and whether they choose to exercise those rights (assuming that people sign the contract) remains to be seen.

Tina said...

I still don't quite understand this. The first exclusive term is still worldwide, which surely prevents us from reselling to any other country? They have exclusive worldwide rights.

What also upsets me is they are the lowest payers as it is, and they aren't going to pay anymore but are expecting more from their writers, hardly seems fair does it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to explore what the new DCT Contract means, Womag. It's not that dissimilar in certain aspects to the WW or TAB contracts in terms of rights to publish on digital platforms etc. It does seem disappointing though that they are asking for first world rights and that they are asking to re-use stories without further payment when they pay the least of all mags. I suppose the thing to remember is that signing the contract will only grant rights to future sales not any stories they've purchased up to the point of the writer signing. I did challenge a similarly worded contract with TLFF and they've not purchased anything from me since! It's just such a shame that we fiction writers have no affiliation with a writers/journalists union. United we stand and all that jazz!!!

womagwriter said...

Tina, the exclusive rights are for first publication. Once it's been published somewhere, that's that bit over and done with, and then they just have the non-exclusive rights for second publication. So if they buy a story, you need to wait for it to be published the first time (which is probably going to be in the UK but not necessarily) and then you're free to sell it elsewhere.

Carolb said...

I was wondering what was creating worries, and I can see why now.

No.8 is not good. What happens if the writer approaches them and offers first refusal on the collection, and they decide they do want to produce a collection themselves?
It doesn't have to be immediate, and they could sit on it for quite some time, meanwhile that author is prevented from earning income from their collection...

Anonymous said...

It's the bit about having to ask permission from them to publish your own stories in a collection, just in case they want to do it, that I don't like. Once they've used them, they really shouldn't have any say in what you do with your stories if the copyright remains with you. It's also worrying that it appears they can use your story/article again without paying you anymore, which is very unfair.

I'm particularly worried about the new rules about pocket novels. For most of us, the chance to sell on to large print and get PLR is the only thing that makes it worthwhile financially (I'll put aside the artistic achievement for a while). To put it into perspective, if I can't sell on the last two novels I've sold to DCT, then I've earned just £600 for 100,000 words. The question myself and other pocket novelists are asking is whether it's worth doing all that work for so little reward. Yes, there's the artistic achievement, and there aren't many other markets out there, unless you can write for Mills and Boon, and they're a hard market to break into. But we also have bills to pay, and being able to sell on to large print goes some way to helping to pay those bills.

Julie P said...

Thanks Womag for this excellent post that sets out the main points of the contract so clearly. I think time will tell how this contract actually works in practice. It does seem a bit of a cheek from one of the lowest payers, though! But I think it'll become common practice in the short story world. Just as writers are struggling so are the short story markets and it may be a case of if we don't accept these contracts the markets will close. That's a no win situation for everyone I'm sure you'll agree. It's not fair and it's frustrating but in the real world of publishing I think it will basically come down to writers making their own decisions on whether they accept the contract and have their story published and get paid what they are offered, or they don't accept the contract and don't get published. It would be interesting to hear from writers who have successfully negotiated on some of the points in the contract and actually got it changed (and got a short story accepted again by them after all the kerfuffle!) I think the problem with the discussion on Facebook was that a lot of people went in half cocked who either hadn't seen the new contract and were just going on hearsay, myth and legend and the crux of the real issue was lost in a totally different issue altogether! Very confusing!This post sets out the truth of it for which I am grateful for - thank you! Julie xx

Lynne Hackles said...

As there is so much confusion and worry over this contract, don't you think it would be a good idea if it was simplified so that ordinary writers can understand exactly what they are signing? You've done a good job in trying to clarify ot but even you said, several times, that you are not a lawyer. We shouldn't need lawyers to decipher our contracts for us.

Anonymous said...

I am feeling so, so, stupid for signing this contract. For the first time in my life I decided to shut down my inner voice which told me not to do something till I'd checked it was OK. I don't do Facebook or any of the social networking sites so thought I was probably the only one who had qualms about the content of the contract. The last time there were discussions about contracts on this blog was, I think, the WW contract giving digital rights etc. At the time everyone seemed to be in favour. What do I do now other than cease sending submissions to DCT - any ideas? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Seems yet another setback for writers trying to make a living from their work. Maybe we need to put our names together and ask that DCT reconsider what they are asking from us.

Anonymous said...

To Anon above - please don't feel stupid - we're writers, not lawyers!

If you hadn't signed the contract you would be no better off at the moment - you would only be able currently to submit to DCT after signing it. If you are unhappy with the terms then I would sit tight for the time being and maybe not send them anything for a while until you see what happens. It will only apply to anything you send to them from now onwards anyway, they can't backdate it to previously published stories unless it specifically says so in the contract (which I haven't seen, but I haven't heard anything to say it does.)
In the (unfortunately unlikely) event that DCT do decide to amend the terms because of the general objections, then you probably would be able to amend your own terms to match the norm. I would certainly hope so.

All the best, Anon 3!

Linda D said...

Oh for the good old days when magazines just wanted First Rights and everyone understood what that meant with no need for complicated contracts. It makes self-publishing seem even more attractive!

TracyFells said...

Thank you for putting in the effort to explain some of the terms in the contract. As I haven't sold to any of these markets for sometime I've not seen the full wording, but appreciate your interpretation and breakdown of the wording.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Womag. I received one of these contracts recently and read it through in a bewildered sort of way! It didn't occur to me that I had any choice about signing, as the markets for short stories are so few, but then as I don't submit work abroad it doesn't seem to be as much of an issue for me.
Where on F/B is the discussion going on?

Anonymous said...

Anon 3. Thanks Anonymous I'd be happy to join other writers in 'sitting tight' in the hope that our much loved DCT Editors have a little rethink on what they are asking us to forego in terms of rights if we wish to publish our work etc. The reason I signed so readily was because of the reasons previously stated and also because I respect the DCT group in terms of their integrity in publishing. I hpe they do not let us writers down.

Rosemary Kind said...

Insisting you give them first refusal of a collection is wholly unfair if they do not offer at least as good a royalty structure as you can earn elsewhere.

The non-exclusive further publication is also restrictive, if they are not offering you royalties for any further use. If you could be earning royalties through digital publication elsewhere they are limiting your potential to earn as an author and fixing the total value of your story to the initial amount they pay you except any magazine publication of secondary rights abroad.

Anonymous said...

It's time that magazine publishers put their full terms with their guidelines. The only magazine (that I've seen) do this is Yours. They want all rights so I don't submit to them. The word 'myth'has been bandied about, even on the PF Facebook page by an editor. The truth is that these contracts are out there and writers are agreeing to the 'friendly/silent' protest. I understand some will back away, that is their choice. But this is a chance to make a stand and show publishers that we do treat our writing as a job and will not be walked on.
Womagwriter explained the contract and it is unacceptable. Why has it been sent out so randomly? Those who have sold recently haven't received one - why? Hopefully this will be picked up by the writing mags - if not the national press - and we will have answers.

womagwriter said...

Just a note to say that editors at DCT have definitely seen this post and I hope to have a response from them to put on this blog in a day or two.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Womag. I'm sure we're all looking forward to hearing from DCT!

Anonymous said...

I'm very worried about this restrictive contract as I earn my living writing full-time. Not only DCT one of my most frequent purchasers, I also sell a lot abroad. (Mind you, I've never subbed a story abroad until a long time after publication in the UK).
The difference this makes to my income is huge. A story can earn over a thousand, depending on the markets, by re-selling. If I can no longer do this then I'd be a fool to sign this contract but I will lose a major market.
However I do think contracts are meant to act two-way. If we don't like it we should be able to challenge it, or ask the Society of Authors to take a look at it or maybe even ALCS.
As far as I can remember from SOA - you can join either as a novelist or someone who has sold several stories or articles so I imagine a lot of us must be eligible. They offer to look at contracts if you are unagented.
I belong to ALCS and as they are big on helping writers achieve as much income as poss they may well be worth approaching.
Also it might be well to remember that DCT are a family firm and in a recent Rich List appeared, I believe, in the top 6. The bottom line being they could maybe afford to pay for additional rights if they want to take them.

Anonymous said...

They were 4th on a list of 6 Scottish billionaires:

They have also recently started refurbishments to one of their Dundee offices:

I know you can't believe everything you read, but...

Simon Whaley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Whaley said...

I received my contract today. Reading through it, I think this might change WHEN you submit work to DC Thomson, or IF you submit.

I read and interpreted the first clause that DC Thomson want to be the first company in the world to publish your work. They don't want World Rights, they just want to be the first company in the world to publish it. Once they've published it (in any format) we'll be free to submit to other countries around the world. (that's how I read the clause.)

This might mean that writers need to think about WHEN they submit to DC Thomson. If another magazine in another country has published your work, then I don't think you'll be able to offer that work to DC Thomson because they won't be the first company in the world to publish that text, which is what (I believe) this contract now wants.

So, presumably, writers based outside the UK may need to consider submitting to DC Thomson first, before they submit their work anywhere else (including in their own countries).

UK writers will need to consider the same. If you submit to several countries at the same time, you'll have to consider the implications of a foreign publication accepting a story (and publishing it) before DC Thomson has made a decision. If this happens, writers will have to contact DC Thomson and ask for their work back, because they won't be able to meet this clause (if I've understood it correctly!)

As a member of the Society of Authors, the Society have agreed to look at the contract for me, because it's important we understand the contract's terms.

At the moment, I don't think the contract is horrendous, but it could impact upon the way writers who work in the International markets operate.

I hope that makes some sort of sense!

When I hear back from the Society of Authors, I shall post on my blog, Simon Says (

womagwriter said...

Thanks Simon. Your understanding is much the same as mine. I would be interested in the response from SOA so please give me a nudge if you post on your blog.
Like you, however, I don't see the new contracts as being anything much to worry about (and see the latest post here - a response from DCT)

Anonymous said...

One thing that has come out of this - if I'm interpreting it correctly - is that writers have been subbing the published versions of their stories abroad for re-sell. (Maybe as cuttings?) Is that right? I've never done that. I've always edited the original version to fit the new mag (mainly due to word lengths as much as anything) but told the foreign magazine the original was previously published.
If that's the case I can continue as I have been. I always offer my work to the UK first (including DCT) and then edit my original MSS - sometimes years after the original publication - to fit the foreign mag guidelines etc.

Anonymous said...

No problem submitting your original ms, as far as I can see, but I think the point is that no overseas market will want to buy your story if DCT have taken first worldwide rights and reserve the right to republish as many times as they like and in whatever meduim they wish.

Adz said...


Thank you for the clarifications. I knew that once published - an author can offer elsewhere, but on re-reading the contract, and immediately getting the gist of what exclusive & non-exclusive means, I still couldn't understand the actual 'rules'.

So thanks again.
As I'm hoping to republish my 1st success of Cheers for Susie, and also any subsequent published novels, this information was perfect for me as a long term writer, and a recently-accepted published author.