Are publishers delaying the magazines best practices guide?
With the recent uproar over freelance contracts, the time seems ripe for change in the Canadian magazine industry. Last year Story Board reported on the long-awaited best practices guide for the magazine industry, a set of guidelines that could help establish professional standards for magazine freelancers, editors and publishers.
The document has been in the works for over five years and was funded by grants secured by the Professional Writers Association of Canada. But although the guide was given a public airing at MagNet in June 2012 and has since been posted on Writers.ca, PWAC executive director Sandy Crawley says it hasn’t yet been endorsed across the industry.
“I believe our partners in the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors have endorsed it but it hasn’t gotten through the board of Magazines Canada, there’s some resistance there,” he said in a phone interview with Story Board earlier this month.
Magazines Canada’s Board of Directors is comprised of 15 publishing industry representatives, including Senior VP of Transcontinental Media Pierre Marcoux who has been on the board since 2010. Transcontinental is currently in the midst of a controversy for introducing a copyright-grabbing freelance contract. This is the second such controversy in four years for the company, which publishes a number of magazine titles including Canadian Living, Elle Canada and The Hockey News.
PWAC not sure guide will ever be endorsed
Crawley said the final draft of the best practices guide went through extensive consultation with many key players in the magazine industry. Although PWAC was solely responsible for securing the grants that funded the development of the guide, Crawley said both CSME and Magazines Canada were in support of the project.
“I’m very grateful to those partners, including Magazines Canada, for endorsing the concept and sending letters of support for the grant. But it was just political support in every case. So at some point it becomes window dressing unless your membership actually says yes, we’re glad we participated in this,” he said.
Crawley said at this point he’s not sure the guide will ever be endorsed.
“I don’t know if we can get it back on the board table at Magazines Canada. Which is really unfortunate because we were prepared to go out into all of the J-Schools with the three organizations’ logos on it so that we could actually do something about setting some of these guidelines for some professional standards in our sector. But they backed away from it,” he said.
“It’s not even binding. It’s just an attempt to recognize professional standards.”
Crawley said PWAC does use the guide as an educational tool for writers and for publishers when possible. He also expressed disappointment that more and more Canadian publishers seem to be taking a “draconian” position on copyright and moral rights issues in their freelance agreements.
“I guess they’re trying to protect their business models and market share … and not have to worry about lawsuits. But in the long run, they really won’t be able to produce quality,” he said.
“In the short term, why can’t we just have a civilized conversation about it?”
Cultural Human Resources Council disappointed
The development of the guide was funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and, in its later stages, by the Cultural Human Resources Council. Susan Annis, Executive Director of the CHRC, said her organization engaged the contractor who wrote the final draft of the guide.
“The guide for best practices is a spectacular document and it’s just really unfortunate that it hasn’t been adopted by publishers formally because a lot of work went into it and it was on a consensus basis,” said Annis in a phone message to Story Board.
In a later phone interview, Annis said the document was created with the input of the three cornerstones of the magazine publishing industry.
“It was not created in a vacuum, it was created with the three voices at the table: the editors, the writers and the publishers,” she said.
Annis said the CHRC lost track of the guide after their involvement in its final draft.
“We have no more influence on the process but I have to tell you it’s hugely disappointing having put that work and those resources into it not to see it embraced the way it had been intended to be embraced by the industry.”
When asked whether she thinks new freelance agreements that ask for full copyright and a waiver of moral rights might be related to delays in the guide’s endorsement, Annis said she did not know.
“It sounds vaguely related, doesn’t it? [If] the best practices guide was in place, would that be happening? I don’t know,” she said.
Canadian Writers Group left wondering
Derek Finkle of the Canadian Writers Group was among over 45 industry members consulted in the development of the guide from its early stages. Since his involvement, he’s been left wondering what’s happened to the guide and why it hasn’t been endorsed by Magazines Canada.
“I happen to know Mark Jamison [Chief Executive Officer of Magazines Canada] and I know that he is sympathetic to the plight of the freelance contributors in the magazine industry,” said Finkle in a recent phone interview.
“And when I read his comments on Story Board saying that they were taking their time and that things were going through the normal paths and processes in getting the best practices guide endorsed, I took him at his word.”
Finkle said that now, however, he’s questioning why the guide remains on the shelf. He said the best practices guide is very clear on the issues of copyright and moral rights.
“It says copyright and moral rights should stay with the writer. So it seems logical for one to assume that publishers who don’t intend to follow the guidelines might oppose adopting them,” he said.
“Apart from just general laziness and apathy and non-interest, there’s no other explanation for the delays. Or at least none has been offered.”
Finkle also pointed out that the magazine industry receives yearly funding from the government. Transcontinental Media, for example, has received between $7.5 million and $8 million per year from the Canada Periodical Fund for the past three years. Finkle said he believes a portion of that money is intended to help the cultural sector – a large and growing segment of which includes self-employed creators such as writers, photographers and illustrators.
“If those people aren’t going to be treated fairly by the companies that they’re funding, I think the government may need to take a long hard look at how they’re funding that sector of the economy.”
Finkle noted that freelance writing rates have not increased for at least 15 or 20 years.
“Rates haven’t changed since long before the internet. So I’m not sure we can totally blame the internet for these issues. Salaries have stayed current with the cost of living, to some extent. Salaries have at least gone up,” he said.
“Funding is great if the publishers are treating the freelance contributors with respect and they’re respecting their copyright and their ability to capitalize on their work. But if they’re not, I think the government agencies have to rethink this kind of funding. Some of that money should be funneling into programs that go directly to creators.”
Story Board attempted to contact Mark Jamison and other members of Magazines Canada by email several times over the past few weeks. We were unable to reach Jamison or any member of the Magazines Canada executive or board of directors for comment. Pierre Marcoux declined to be interviewed by Story Board in early February for a post about Transcontinental’s new contributors agreement.