Jessica Kingsley • 12 March 2014

Clark’s Publishing Agreements is “the voice of reason” for publishers grappling with the ever changing world of contract and copyright. Jessica Kinsley reviews the ninth edition, once again under the general editorship of Lynette Owen (below right). Surely the last edition of Clark’s Publishing Agreements came out only a few months ago – but no, it is indeed three years. It is, nonetheless, true that updated (and invariably enlarged) editions of this essential book are appearing with increased frequency, reflecting the pace of change in the publishing industry. Now over 800 pages, it is more useful than ever.

Some of the new content has come out of changing legislation or reviews of existing legislation, but much more is a response to the multi-dimensional, changing environment in which publishers need to find their way. The reality of global publishing – partly a result of the availability of information through the internet, partly simply the consequence of the consolidations within publishing among the largest companies – has resulted in some quite basic adjustments to the core contracts, for example covering the probability that a book will be published globally, and in different editions, by one publishing group. The assumption that ebook editions are now core business is, equally, taken into account – though I was interested (and relieved) to see that the precedent for the sale of translation rights does not yet include a standard clause, but rather a useful and clear note (expanded from the 8th edition) explaining complexities and suggesting wording that can be added “to taste”. Does this suggest that most non-English language publishers are lagging behind in ebook publishing, or that there are still too many countries where different trading practices make publishers wary of stepping beyond the basic print rights? I suspect some of each.

Of course the biggest changes since the last edition have been around new technology, both hardware, as new forms of e-reader have appeared, and software in the form of apps, as well as the consequences for publishers of the involvement of companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon in the provision of e-content. New Precedents cover app development, and text and data mining, and as you would expect of Clark’s, these are clear, reasonable, and fair. It is nice not to have to reinvent the wheel.

Useful though the Precedents themselves are – and useful they most certainly are – the extensive notes on the Precedents are the real gold dust. Much has been rewritten and expanded for this edition, much has been added. The first two Precedents – for a general trade book contract, and for an educational, professional or academic contract – include minor (but often significant) amendments and additions responding to changing times, but the notes accompanying the text are extensively revised. For example, “minimum sales” replaces the “out of print” clause in the General Books Precedent, and while “out of print” remains in the educational, professional or academic contract, it is accompanied by sensible alternatives in the notes, and a cogent exploration of the complexities that indicates just how far print on demand and its variants, and ebook publishing, have matured over the intervening three years. Since this is a clause that seems frequently to attract a disproportionate amount of attention and anxiety, it is extremely reassuring to feel that one is here sitting next to Nellie, and Nellie has really thought about what is equitable for all parties.

It is, in fact, immensely reassuring to find that the more closely one looks at (what is literally) the small print, the more the revisions, subtle though these in many cases are, reflect the issues that come up in an average month of business-as-usual. It is not just that entirely new questions are being asked, to cover new ideas and new combinations of media, but that the old certainties shift and move all the time. I am sure JKP is not the only publishing house that is spending more time than ever discussing contract minutiae with authors. The rise and rise of self-publishing makes everyone an expert, especially in a world where royalty rates are bandied around freely, and expectations stratospheric (if frankly unreal) for most self-publishers; and what appears to be an increasingly litigious age means that many more authors seem to consult legal advisors, unfortunately often those with no background in IP.

In such a world, Clark’s is the voice of reason. The sensible revised guidelines issued by the Publishers Association in 2010 and included here resonate with common sense, decency and patient attention to detail, and this is the collective authorial voice throughout the volume as a whole. Spending some time with this exhaustively revised volume reminds me yet again of why I have remained in publishing all these years – not just because it is interesting and worthwhile, but because of the shared sense of purpose, and the generosity of the people involved.

Once again all the contributors, including the General Editor, have donated their royalties to the Book Trade Charity.

Clark’s Publishing Agreements: A Book of Precedents, 9th edition (including CD), is out now price £143 (including 10% VAT) from Bloomsbury Professional

Jessica Kingsley is Chairman and Managing Director of Jessica Kingsley Publishers