Since the first of the year I've written a couple of times about Spectacle Magazine, a new quarterly speculative fiction publication (see here and here for previous articles). The magazine is published and edited by Kevin Hale and Danny Dumas and aims to be a high-end venue for thought-provoking fiction and non-fiction focused on SF/F themes.
Three days ago the Spectacle's editors sent out a number of story acceptances. Normally you'd expect authors to be excited about acceptances, but news quickly spread that many of them were not happy with the contract terms being offered. I personally had multiple authors contact me about issues around the contracts they were offered.
Specifically, this part of the contract caused major concerns among authors:
(i) Editorial Publishing Rights. The perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide right to publish, republish, distribute, display, exhibit, transmit, and broadcast, and otherwise include the Content in all print, digital, or electronic media and platforms and all derivative works thereof in connection with the Journal, including without limitation and all publications, anthologies, series, and condensations in all media, formats, platforms, styles, and methods of transmission now known or hereafter developed. Spectacle will have the right to make all decisions regarding whether and where to publish the Content, the timing of publication of the Content, and the placement of the Content within the Journal or any other publication or work in which the Journal is distributed, in whole or in part.
There are several issues there, including with derivative rights. At worst this derivative rights grab could allow Spectacle to create films or video games or nearly anything else using the stories they purchased and the authors wouldn't be able to object.
There are also other issues with the contract, such as not laying out when the work would be published or that the rights will revert to the author in the case the story is never published.
It appears the editors adapted a standard nonfiction or journalistic freelance contract instead of using one of the contact templates standard to the fiction-publishing industry.
I asked the editors why they did this and why they were requesting so many rights. Kevin Hale, the magazine's CEO and creative director, responded.
Here's his response:
1. We use the same contributor contract for fiction, nonfiction and illustrators. We do this for efficiency.
2. We ask for those rights for maximum flexibility. Yes, that’s why we ask for them.
We understand that some authors may be worried, but we’re hoping that trust will come over time as they see how we treat the work entrusted to us. One of the ideas we’re working on is making trailers for issues and stories for instance.
We’re asking for a little bit of faith in the end. Spectacle is a place for authors to be discovered and to have their work shown off to the world in a way that hasn’t been seen before. I realize we’re asking for a lot and we know we’re new on this scene, but we’re determined to show that we’re going to do amazing things with our authors’ words. We’re making a large investment in their work already to illustrate them beautifully and print them as a quality physical product. Our model doesn’t work if we do something that will embarrass our authors, so we don’t take this responsibility lightly.
I appreciate Hale responding to my questions, and do see that as a willingness to interact with the larger genre community. But that said, I wouldn't sign this contract for my own fiction. While Spectacle pays $100 for flash fiction and $500 for longer stories, that's not enough to compensate for a contract that borders on being work for hire (with the exception of the author keeping copyright).
Which is a shame, because Spectacle has the potential to be a needed voice for the SF/F genre. I subscribed to Spectacle and the first issue is beautifully printed and designed. There are about a dozen nonfiction essays and articles in the issue along with eight short stories, of which two are reprints. The two fiction reprints are the longest stories, while the rest are flash fiction. The exception is "Ingredients" by Craig DeLancey, which at 1600 words straddles the flash fiction and short story boundary. "Ingredients" is also a wonderful SF story which I could see being reprinted in a year's best SF anthology.
I wonder if the issues around Spectacle's contract are due to the editors being relatively new to the publishing world. As I've written before, the editors come from tech startup backgrounds or have been involved in that world instead of the fiction publishing industry. While their unique backgrounds may be a benefit to the magazine as a whole, in the case of author contracts it may have taken them down a bad road.
As a side note, when the magazine announced their first round of rejections and acceptances the editors stated they received 1,780 submissions from 1,483 authors and accepted 55 stories (3%). Since Spectacle is a quarterly magazine which publishes around 8 to 10 short stories an issue, that means they may have already filled their inventory for the entire year. If those numbers also included non-fiction submissions (which is likely), then they've now filled at least their next two issues with content.
Update: In response to this article Spectacle Magazine contacted SFWA and is working to fix their contract issues. See this tweet for more.