Spotify’s deal with publishers and the resolution to the screenwriters’ strike illustrates how quickly our landscape is changing. Welcome to Self-Publishing News with ALLi News editor Dan Holloway, bringing you the latest in indie-publishing news and commentary.
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About the Host
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: Spotify's Deal with Publishers
Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to another Self-Publishing News podcast from a freezing Oxford, where in today's attempt to keep warm at the outdoor gym, I learned that it takes apparently 33 minutes and 28 seconds to bench press my bodyweight 100 times, as opposed to the other gym users who learned that to keep warm at the outdoor gym you use the inside gym. I guess that's what you get if you're a writer.
Going on to the news, there are two really big stories this week. There's also some really interesting developments from some of the platforms that we use, so I will cover that first before I get into the really meaty stuff.
A lot of you out there will use StreetLib. StreetLib is one of those great distribution platforms that enables you to upload your work to one place and then push it out to various different shops and various different markets, it does all the formatting for you and does all the distribution for you. It's obviously a digital-first platform.
It has now partnered with the German self-publishing print company Bookrix, so that you can basically have your print and your digital all under the same roof.
This is part of an increasing move towards these one-stop-shop ways of serving indie authors, which is becoming more and more popular. We're seeing companies like Kobo Writing Life are doing it with partnering with Findaway. We're seeing it with platforms like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, constantly announcing new services that they're offering authors as a way of saving us time in a landscape that is constantly evolving and constantly getting more and more complicated, and we're going to look at some of that complication today.
It's really important that the platforms we use save us as much time as possible. So, this is the kind of thing I think we're going to be seeing more and more of.
So, that brings us to a really big story that is going to affect us as indies. It has already drawn the ire of the Society of Authors, and that is the news that Spotify, which is, again, they see themselves as the one-stop shop for audio, as Daniel Ek, the rather techie, disruptive CEO put it when he first moved into audiobooks. They have announced that they have finally made a deal with all the big publishers, and that means that Spotify premium customers, who pay $11 a month, they will have access to 15 hours of audiobook content from a 150,000-book catalogue, which includes works from all those big publishers. So, obviously that's a really big move.
It makes Spotify, sort of overnight, a massive player that we always knew they were going to be in the audiobook market.
They are already negotiating with indie publishers. It will not be long before we're looking at what terms we get if we push our books out through Spotify, and it's terms that are really the bone of contention here. There has been a decided lack of transparency around the terms that were offered to publishers, and from publishers about the terms that they negotiated on behalf of writers who didn't participate in those negotiations and weren't necessarily consulted on how to negotiate or whether they even wanted to negotiate, in terms of Spotify.
The Society of Authors has published a series of demands aimed at publishers, which seek to increase transparency around such negotiations. So, they seek to ask for full transparency about anything that's been negotiated, and they seek to attain for authors the right to withdraw books from negotiations if you don't want your books on certain catalogs. So, if you don't want your book on Spotify, then the Society of Authors is saying you should have the right to withdraw your book from that catalog.
Other demands are around shares of receipts, how people are paid, and the clarity of the payment model.
Of course, this is one of the big things that we know with Audible, and that was behind Audiblegate, is that these payment models are not necessarily clear and even when they look clear royalty statements and payment models don't necessarily marry up.
So, the other demands include licenses being time limited and therefore having to be renegotiated after a certain period of time, and inevitably, at the end of the list, ensure that licenses include safeguards to prevent pirating of authors and narrators works and voices, including for use in AI systems.
This matters because at the same time that Spotify were negotiating this deal with publishers, they were announcing that they were going to be using their own AI to translate podcasts into other languages.
They've got this rather nifty thing where they think they're going to use AI to retain the speaker's accents in whatever language they translate the podcast into. So, that's obviously their way of maximizing the markets that they are able to get podcasts out to.
Also, they announced recently that they aren't going to be, as a matter of course, removing AI-generated music from their catalogue.
Daniel Ek clearly is a fan of AI. He is a tech person rather than a creative person, and is fascinated by tech advances, and is clearly going to use tech advances.
Again, this matters because where Spotify leads, everywhere else is going to follow. So, Mark Williams has a piece on the New Publishing Standard this week, saying that clearly BookBeat is going to be next in negotiating streaming deals with the same publishers that Spotify have been negotiating with.
So, this is the kind of thing that is increasingly going to happen. I don't think we can get away from it.
As indies, we are going to have to know all sorts of things about how royalties are paid in respect of streaming services. So, we're going to have to educate ourselves a little bit, or we're going to have to throw ourselves onto platforms that will do that for us, and then rely on their ability.
So, that's where these one-stop shops come back in again, but I don't think we can ignore this. We all knew Spotify was coming, we knew that when they announced they were getting into audiobooks, which we knew they would, that this was going to change the rules of the game. We're there. We need to work out what that means. So, that's Spotify.
The other big thing that's in the news this week, which is sort of related because it affects how we as authors negotiate in the future and are going to be negotiating in the future, it also relates to streaming, is that we've seen some of the terms, or all of the terms, of the agreement between writers and producers that led to the resolution of the writer's strike in Hollywood.
So, Passive Guy who is a copyright author, copyright lawyer, which means that he's always really interesting on anything legal and anything relating to rights, has a really interesting article on this.
He has stripped out from the 94-page agreement all the bits that relate to AI, which is really interesting.
The most interesting piece is that producers are agreeing that AI can never be a writer. So, because it's not human, it can never be considered a writer, and that matters in two respects. It matters because only writers, as content creators, can be rights holders, so AI can never be a rights holder. That matters also when it comes to payment; it's writers who are paid for creating work, and actually, the agreement has some interesting examples that illustrates what this means.
So, one example is, suppose a studio uses an AI to generate a storyline. It then asks you to turn that storyline into a screenplay. The result is that you have a storyline and a screenplay, and as a writer, you would therefore be entitled to payment for at least the minimum going rate for both the story and the screenplay, because the AI can't be considered the writer of either the story or the screenplay.
So, even though you would have only maybe worked on the screenplay, you are nonetheless, because a story has emerged from this process, you get the rights and the resulting payment for that story.
Likewise, if a draft screenplay has been produced by an AI and you are asked to amend it, you would be entitled to the rights for producing a full screenplay from scratch.
So, that's a really interesting agreement that it will be fascinating to see whether or not it is replicated across different industries.
What's also interesting is that part of the agreement is that everyone needs to sit down again in six month’s time and keep doing so every six months, because they acknowledge that this landscape is changing so quickly that anything that's said now might not be relevant in six month’s time. So, this is going to have to be looked at again and again. So, in a way that's good, because it acknowledges that things are going to come up that we can't foresee now, and we need to know how to treat them at the time. But it also means that what might seem like progress now, what might seem like we've solved this issue, we've reached a solution that works for everyone, that only stands for six months. It might be that six months down the line you need to fight again for the same rights.
So, really interesting reading, but as with Spotify, these are things that are going to change the landscape we are working in, in the long term, and we need to know how to negotiate that landscape.
My preference is to read lots about this stuff, to learn everything I can about the technology as it advances, the legal situation as it advances, but as you probably know by now, that's one of the things I find particularly interesting. Many people don't, and that's where distribution platforms, one-stop shop companies, like StreetLib are trying to be, like Draft2Digital, like PublishDrive, they are increasingly going to have a role to play.
The worry is, and this is why I prefer the educational route, that as things get more complex, it just happened with blockchain, so companies are going to come along who play on that complexity and say, we've got a solution, and unless you have a basic level of education about the issues they are trying to solve, you won't know whether it really is a solution and you won't know whether that solution is good value.
So, even if you're going to turn to other places for a solution for you, you need to have that basic level of understanding in order to work out whether or not you're being scammed. Although obviously, ALLi is going to keep on doing its thing through our Watchdog to alert you wherever possible and to keep people honest, and I will do whatever I can do in the meanwhile to carry on educating you and sharing what I pick up about the technology and about the law as and when it changes.
I look forward to speaking to you again next week, hopefully from a slightly warmer Oxford when no doubt I will have discovered something else about how to keep warm on the frosty mornings maybe. I think next week I'm planning on working out how long it takes me to deadlift my body weight 200 times. Who knows, you might get a report on that as well as whatever's happening in the world of self-publishing news.