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Why I won’t sign the Transcontinental contract: Kim Pittaway

November 12, 2009

Kim Pittaway is a magazine writer and editor. She has been a frequent contributor to Transcontinental magazines, including More and Homemaker’s, and has garnered six National Magazine Award Foundation nominations, three of them for articles published by Transcontinental. She is the past editor-in-chief and managing editor of Chatelaine magazine, past president of the National Magazine Award Foundation and an in-demand seminar leader on topics related to writing, editing and online journalism. She refuses to sign the new Transcontinental contract. Here’s why.

I’ve had great working relationships with editors at More and Homemaker’s, and know and respect many others who work for Transcontinental–which is why I was so deeply disappointed by this new contract, one which conveys a fundamental disrespect for the creators who contribute so much to the success of Transcon’s publications.

Why does this contract seem disrespectful to me?

  • Because it grabs a whole bundle of new rights with little or no additional fee. I know that print publications are struggling to find new revenue streams. I get that the media mix is shifting. And I’m eager to work with editors and publishers to find new ways to reach readers. But publishers already get a bargain on the print rights they purchase from copyright holders–those rates haven’t gone up in over 30 years. And to now say you’re taking a whole whack of new rights for the same bargain-basement rate is simply unfair. I own those rights on my work. And I choose not to sell them to you at that low rate.
  • Because it was imposed with no consultation with writers. One day, I had a great working relationship with my editors, was juggling three or four assignments, and all was right with the world. Oh–and I’d just garnered Transcon mags two National Magazine Award nominations. The next day, I was told that if I didn’t sign the contract as is, no changes, that I wouldn’t be working for them any longer.
  • Because it is a sign-once, live-with-it-forever contract. This contract applies to my work with Transcon in perpetuity and applies to all work for all Transcon properties. So Transcon is locking in the rights they want at a point when suppliers are vulnerable because of the current economic situation, and preventing writers from renegotiating the contract at any point in the future. Who in their right mind signs a contract that applies forever?

I’m mystified by this contract–perhaps because I have difficulty believing that the good folks I know at Transcon actually intended to send such a negative message with it. Maybe they’re getting bad legal advice. I hope that’s the reason. But even more than that, I hope we’re able to engage in a constructive conversation to change it. Because a bad contract is bad for writers, it’s tough on editors and it’s ultimately bad for magazines and their readers. And that’s a shame, for all of us.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Shelagh McNally permalink
    November 13, 2009 2:33 pm

    I won’t be signing the contract with Transcontinental either. It was with a heavy heart that I sent a regretful email to my Transcon editor telling her why I couldn’t sign the contract. She is a talented, hard working and very fair editor who I know had nothing to do with the new contract. I’ve been freelancing since 1989 and have worked for a wide range of newspapers, magazines, websites and book publishers including Random House, Reader’s Digest and the National Post. I’ve seen the fees for writers gradually diminish over the years so that it’s become impossible to make a living. Like so many other writers I have often ignored contracts and copyright terms because they make my eyes glaze over. As a result, I have been badly burned a number of times. This contract must not become the new industry standard. Otherwise, writing is going to become a part time job that we do in the evenings after our 9 to 5 job that pays the rent. We need to remind ourselves along with editors and publishers (and the bean counters who make their lives miserable) that writers are the backbones of this business. We need to be paid accordingly.

  2. Richard L. Provencher permalink
    November 14, 2009 8:11 am

    What are the names of some of the magazines belonging to Transcom?

  3. November 27, 2009 1:26 pm

    I think we should also point out publications that don’t pay for your work, period. As a food writer, I was excited to see a Facebook friend join a group for ‘Fire & Knives’ magazine. But when I went to their website, here’s what I found under Submission Guidelines:

    “We aim to give established writers a place for work that would not be published elsewhere; new writers a place to show themselves and writers in other fields an opportunity to think about food.

    We don’t pay. We hope this magazine benefits writers and readers alike so initially subscriptions just cover our print and production costs. If, by some error of judgement, we become profitable, money will be placed in a ‘tronc’ and distributed among all contributors.”

    I don’t think this is a reasonable business plan in these ‘current economic times’. I’ve just been stiffed for $1000 by a new publication that has run into trouble after 5 issues…does Fire & Knives really expect they will be able to pay their writers a decent fee, ever? I love the ‘If, by some error of judgement, we become profitable….’ Wow, that instils confidence in me!

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