Media: Inside publishing-Bloomsbury gloom

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What a difference a decade makes. When Bloomsbury launched itself back in 1987, it vowed to be the most author-friendly of publishers and made great play of its signing of the Minimum Terms Agreement, a standard contract drawn up by the Society of Authors, effectively, the writers' trade union, which guarantees fair treatment. It is assumed that every MTA signatory will offer that contract to every author.

Well, that's the theory. It seems that Bloomsbury, though they are by no means alone, offers other contracts to authors whom they think may not be members of the society. One author who recently challenged such a contract was advised that if he had only told them he was a member he'd have been offered the right one at the outset! The idea behind the MTA is that all authors are created equal, whether or not they pay union dues.

Chickens are now flocking home to roost, for in a recent survey of members, published in the latest edition of The Author, Bloomsbury come 38th out of 41 publishers, scoring well below such dozy no-hopers as Robert Hale and Mills & Boon. Bloomsbury's performance has `dropped fairly dramatically' since the last survey in 1992. On issues such as willingness to negotiate, overall fairness of contract and holding to publication promises, Bloomsbury scored poorly. Only 69 per cent of authors said they would be willing to work with them again - well below John Murray and Transworld on 87 per cent. Still, Bloomsbury can take comfort that Penguin scored just 58 per cent.