Editor’s Note: This is an exceptionally long Autowriters Spotlight, but Truesdell deserves more rope to explain himself because he is taking on the largest publisher of automotive titles in the U.S.
In the 1976 classic “Network” Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale screamed at the top of his lungs “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” That about sums up this month’s spotlighted writer, Richard Truesdell who in a classic David versus Goliath battle, is taking on automotive publishing giant Source InterLink over its onerous, all-rights, take it or leave it approach to content acquisition.
Over the past 18 years Rich has been a contributor to Road and Track Specials, Car and Driver, and Motor Trend, cutting his journalistic teeth while he still owned a mobile electronics store. Initially his specialty was providing in-car entertainment-focused content, culminating in his being named editor of Car Audio and Electronics in 1997. (Source InterLink recently shut down Car Audio and Electronics after a 20-year run).
After his time on the staff side of the editorial divide, Rich returned to the freelance ranks and has contributed to a diverse roster of titles at emap, Primedia, and now Source InterLink and is currently the West Coast Contributing Editor and columnist for Musclecar Enthusiast while contributing on a regular basis to the other five Amos Automotive titles including Cars and Parts and Mopar Enthusiast. His first feature was published in the October issue of the UK title Classic and Sports Car, a 1,500-mile drive from Denver to Las Vegas in a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi, following as closely as possible the route of the 1971 cult classic “Vanishing Point.”
“I contribute each month to more than a dozen automotive, travel, and lifestyle publications around the world so I jealously protect my rights. As I don’t normally work with the luxury of signed contracts, I make it very clear – it’s printed on each and every one of my invoices – what my submission terms are. Normally, for domestic publications it will say ‘First North American serial right and concurrent web use’ which I think is pretty generous given how little some publications pay.”
“This past January I provided one Source InterLink title, European Car, a new product review on automotive electronics products that premiered at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. I found out, after the fact, that an editor provided the article to a second publication, Lowrider Girls. The content was subsequently repurposed and reprinted without permission. After it was published Lowrider Girl’s editor contacted me saying that she would like the same type of content on a continuing basis.”
“I politely told her that she had no right to reprint the content, but if she paid me for the ‘borrowed’ content, and agreed to my terms moving forward, then I would consider the matter closed and I provided three additional content packages – Lowrider Girls is bi-monthly – and invoiced her accordingly, under my standard terms.”
“In August I was informed by an accounts payable manager at Source InterLink, again, after the first article was ‘borrowed’ and after two more articles were submitted, accepted, and published, that unless I modified the terms on my invoice, releasing all rights to Source InterLink, that she would not be able to pay me. I reminded her that Source InterLink was already in a compromised position for having already reprinted one content package without permission, but in the spirit of solving the impasse, I slightly modified my terms granting non-exclusive use of the content while retaining all subsequent rights, including reprints, and resubmitted the invoices in expectation of being paid promptly.”
“That was more than 45 days ago and now neither the editor or the accounts payable manager is responding, or apparently even reading my E-mails, reminding them the terms of my submission and that the invoices are now seriously delinquent.”
“As there’s now a total communications breakdown, I have decided to escalate the battle to another level. First, I contacted the National Writer’s Union in New York and asked them if they would like to be involved in my case, and they agreed, which prompted me to join their organization. Next, I prepared and am sending via certified mail, a new invoice for the content originally ‘borrowed’ by Source InterLink’s Lowrider Girls, for a fee substantially in excess of my previous agreement, feeling that they had breeched the agreement for having used it without my agreement in the first place, then telling me that they wouldn’t pay for it unless I modified my terms after we, meaning me and the editor, had an agreement going forward.”
Think about it, in the future, what would stop Source InterLink, or any publisher for that matter, for having a lower-paying publication, such as Lowridrer Girls, acquire content for a low rate per page, then circulate it into higher paying publications such as Hot Rod or Motor Trend, which I’ve produced content for and which pays substantially more per page? Where would that leave us as the providers of the content, especially if it was used for reprints as another example? Shouldn’t we share in any revenue such content generates? Think about it, who would knowingly agree to such a scenario?”
Some of my peers might ask why am I risking alienating the biggest automotive publisher in North America, what can I possibly gain? To me, it’s all about principle; if writers, photographers, artists don’t stand up for our rights now, we will never be able to in the future. I’m fortunate in that I have a diverse client base, including some non-magazine clients who respect the creative process.
This was not a “work for hire” situation, nor was any contract to that effect offered. It was a somewhat generic new products page but one with a unique angle, a template that I have developed over the years, and which I market to many publications, in each instance modified to each publication’s needs.
The pragmatist in me says that while I can’t reasonably expect too many of my peers will be able to support me publicly, I hope that some of you will encourage me privately, that many of you will see that my battle is yours as well.
And while all this moves forward, I will continue to work on my real passion, Automotive Traveler and www.automotivetraveler.com. We’re approaching our two-year anniversary, and while we have temporarily suspended publishing the online magazine version of Automotive Traveler magazine as we retool our business model, we plan to resume publication early in 2009. I can proudly say that we paid all of our contributors, not lavishly but within our means and the agreements made with all of our contributors, and most have told me that they want to continue to be involved with Automotive Traveler as we move forward. This was extremely gratifying to me.
Together we are entering what I like to call a brave new world in the publishing arena, especially as more and more content is provided in the digital domain, some of it exclusively online. I’m hoping that automotivetraveler.com can evolve into a Huffington Post-like portal for automotive and travel news and opinion and would welcome any of my peers who would like to contribute your own blogs on a regular or irregular basis. I can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich invites you to visit www.automotivetraveler.com.