Last week, a former Dorchester Publishing author made some news by calling for a boycott of Dorchester Publishing due to the issues they are having with paying authors and ebooks being for sale from various vendors which had had rights on them reverted back to the author. Is this a problem? Of course it is. You don’t sign on a with publisher with the idea that you won’t get paid. If you knew this ahead of time, you probably wouldn’t sign a contract with them. Sort of goes without saying.
The recession tanked Dorchester. Publishing runs on a pretty thin margin as it is, and the big ones have reserves to weather the downturns, but Dorchester is not one of major publishers. They’re small by comparison, as well as independent. That independence is one of the things that has given them appeal over the years. It allowed them to take more risks on books. Some authors have begun very good careers with Dorchester. Then book sales dropped precipitously between 2009 and 2010, and suddenly publishers were having problems. The big six were losing money in the millions of dollars. Small presses were going under. Dorchester got to that brink of collapse, and is now trying to claw its way back.
Now, I make know claims to know anything about how they tried to deal with the declining revenues. It’s clear though they got to a point where they could not pay out to authors and pay their bills. Did this go on too long before they made the big change to digital? Probably, but I can’t say much about that, since I don’t know. Some authors got some money, some did not, royalty statements weren’t going out. It obviously turned into a mess. They have a new CEO now, who hopefully has a clearer view of the road ahead and what they can do to get their footing back under them. They are trying. I know some authors have not received monies. I know some who have. They’re gradually getting it out as they get it in. Point is, they don’t have the cash flow to pay off all they owe right away, but they are paying, slowly but surely.
As for the rights issues. I don’t know enough about the system to understand how that works. I don’t know that Dorchester has a lot of control over vendors beyond sending them orders to not sell certain books and hoping they comply in a timely manner. I doubt they can afford to sue them if they don’t. Do I think Dorchester is purposefully selling books against the reversion of rights? No, I don’t. Sure they can get some extra money in from doing so, but they can probably get sued for that as well, and I don’t expect they can afford to get hit with anything and survive. I want Dorchester to survive. Not just because I want to see a publishing house stay in business (I do, but that’s beside the point), but because I want to see the authors eventually get what is owed them and hopefully find success. Boycotting Dorcchester isn’t going to help keep them in business. To me, it’s telling them you hope they go out of business, because they are barely treading water now, and to say, “I want you to lose sales” is basically saying you hope they sink. It seems counter-intuitive to me, to want to boycott them for an issue they are trying to resolve but have no immediate solution for. It hurts their chances at recovering, and more importantly, it hurts author’s sales. They are gradually paying off what they owe authors.
Could they be dealing with vendors better or differently in order to resolve the rights issues? Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know, but I believe their claims to get things set straight. Doing otherwise would doom their recovery. I want them to succeed. More importantly, I want their authors to succeed. I don’t blame them for taking their books elsewhere. It’s a crappy situation to be in, but there are Dorchester authors who are sticking with them, and riding out the storm, hoping they will turn things around and get back on solid footing. To me, the boycott says that we hope they don’t, because lost sales will only hurt their chances. Not only that, there’s no chance the boycott will do anything positive to resolve the situation. It’s not like Dorchester isn’t aware of the problem, and I do know they are actively trying to fix it.
So, I”m going to let them keep trying, and if I see a book by a Dorchester author I like, I’ll buy it. Personally, I think that will do more for getting authors paid than not.