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Boycott 'Fresh Home' and 'Best You' Magazines


This is not a blog unfortunately and you can not post comments here. I will, however, post excerpts of what you email me (unless you tell me) - and, to preserve your chance to get writing jobs, you will be anonymous.

And I encourage you to spread the word on your favorite blogs and message boards.


Updates

Tuesday, March 4, 2009:

This is the response I sent to the writer below:

"Like you, I have only had positive experiences as a writer for Reader's Digest. It is not my intention to cause the company any harm. I have no axe to grind with RDA; nor do I have a hidden agenda. And, despite what everybody claims, I never made any assumptions; I just asked some questions.

If we can restrain ourselves from making personal accusations, maybe we can use this situation to arrive at improved communications between creative contractors and publishers.

I just want to make a point. As a veteran article writer, I can't help but speak out when I see writers' rights on a slippery slope into oblivion.

Please let me explain: Back in the 1970's, when I first started writing magazine articles in this country, writers sold their work with 'North American serial rights', which gave the publishers the right to print the article in a US or Canadian magazine once. Any other use required additional pay.

As years went by, writer's rights were chipped away little by little. Like glaciers, the movement was imperceptible, but the direction was unwaveringly downhill. And as the Internet has grown in importance, 'all rights' contracts have become ubiquitous. Believe me, I know. I research what rights magazines demand on a daily basis. (All rights terms grant publishers just what it sounds: All rights to use the material in any which way they choose, except the writer retains the copyright.)

But in their quest to "re-purpose" material, RDA has made use of 'work-for-hire' contracts in which the publisher acquires all rights, including the copyright. Employees do work-for-hire but they are compensated by long-term pay, benefits and legal protection. Work-for-hire contractors usually get none of these and since the writers have no idea how their material will be used, they are unable to hold out for fair compensation. Or sell it elsewhere."

Is this the kind of treatment RDA says they are proud of?

And is this how writers, photographers and illustrators want to be treated?

Later on Monday, March 3, 2009:

A writer wrote in praise of Reader's Digest:

"Dear Meg,

I think your remarks seem rather harsh. I've written a number of articles for Reader's Digest (not the new publications), and consider it one of my top markets. Not only does it pay well--and extremely promptly--but the editors are great to work with and very professional. If you're going to critique publications that exploit writers, why not start with the Huffington Post, which pays nothing at all, but is run for profit? Or what about MediaBistro, which pays next to nothing and is also highly profitable for its owner?

Occasionally an email get [sic] trapped in their spam filter, so that may be what happened to you. Personally, I applaud RD for starting new magazines and providing opportunities for freelancers in a difficult economy when others, including Hallmark and other major publications, are folding right and left. The response you ultimately got shows you were patently incorrect in various assumptions you made, so I think you owe these publications and your readers an apology."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009:

The blog Canadian Magazines provides an interesting angle:

"A friend tells us, however, that one of the ways costs have been kept down is that RDA is not paying second rights to the Canadian (and Australian) writers for re-using their previously published articles..."

Read the entire post at
http://canadianmags.blogspot.com. and the original New York Post article at http://tiny.cc/yHt9G.

Later on Monday, March 2, 2009: A question to all of you:

Writers, do these two emails from RDA today settle the matter for you? And now that photography has been thrown into the mix, let's hear it from photographers: Are you comfortable with RDA's answers?

If it does, please let me know.

If it doesn't, let Mr. Adler at william.adler@rd.com and Mr. Wertheimer at neil.wertheimer@rd.com know. And, I would appreciate if you would cc me at mweaver@woodenhorsepub.com.


Monday, March 2, 2009: Telephone conversation with RDA and follow-up emails:

I was invited to talk on the telephone with William Adler (and two publicists, who remained quiet.) His conversation basically followed along the lines in his wrap-up emails to me:

Meg,

Thanks for your generosity of time and intellectual space in speaking with me at length about our favorite topic!

Here is the Letter to the Editor from Neil Wertheimer. As you can see, he (and our entire editorial staff) are offended and hurt. We ask that you run the letter -- in entirety -- and use this as an opportunity to engender thoughtful conversation between Neil and the freelance community. That could be how all this comes out as a distinctly helpful experience for all.

In the meantime, we continue to get angry, strongly worded emails and subscription cancellations for our magazines.

Thank you,

William K. Adler
Vice President, Global Communications
The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.


March 2, 2009

Meg Weaver
Editor in Chief/Publisher, Wooden Horse Publishing


Dear Meg,

I am the Editor in Chief of the Home & Garden and Health & Wellness Group at the Reader's Digest Association, and the person in charge of the editorial development of the new magazines you mention in your article in the March 1 edition of the Wooden Horse Magazine News. On behalf of Reader's Digest Association, I'd like to set the record straight.

Your article saddened us on several levels. First, because of a communication breakdown not of our making (we never got any phone or e-mail messages from you, and the simple, no-context question we did get via our publicity agency, we answered), you made assumptions that never should have been made, and wrote an editorial that never should have been written.

Second, your reputation will be hurt as a result. And as one of the largest and proudest users of freelance writers in America, we would much prefer that the community of professional writers have strong, journalistically sound advocates.

Here are the facts regarding the editorial development of Fresh Home:

* The only articles that were "repurposed" in the first edition of Fresh Home were the seven do-it-yourself projects with graphic illustrations and photos, and two short features. All other content was original and written either by American freelancers or American staff editors.

* The projects and articles we did repurpose were conceived and developed in-house by the editors in our Family Handyman franchise, both America and Australia, and thus were company owned and paid for.

* An American editor was hired to carefully adapt each project to the style and voice of Fresh Home.

* Our freelancers were paid very fair and competitive wages under contracts they happily signed. Yes, we did use work-for-hire contracts, but that is because the articles we commissioned were OUR ideas, and we pitched them to the writers. Frankly, they were thrilled to get the work and to participate in the launch of a great new magazine.

Bottom line: Not only did we follow every ethical guideline for the writing and development of Fresh Home, but we've created a new shelter magazine in a time when many are folding, one that offers the promise of much freelance work in the months and years ahead. If I was a writer in the shelter genre, I'd be celebrating.

From this one misread situation, you then extrapolated that all of Reader's Digest Association must be unfriendly to writers. But if you were a working freelancer in the areas of health, home, DIY, cooking, or non-fiction narrative, you would know that the opposite is true:

* We are among the most ethical of publishers in the business. Always have been, and always will be. Our contracts are extensive and fair and explicit; our writers very well compensated; our editing wise, cordial and effective. Just ask any of the thousands who have contributed to our books or magazines over the decades.

* We are also among the world's largest publishers and employers of freelance writers. We publish books and/or magazine in 77 countries, and have editorial offices in 45 of them. The majority of our internal content flow is from the U.S. offices to other countries, and our writers are always compensated for this. However, when our overseas offices create outstanding original content appropriate for our market, we happily take it.

* Whereas Reader's Digest magazine was for seven decades primarily a "repurposed" magazine (drawing articles from other publications), today it is nearly all original content. In fact, it has become a showplace today for new writers and great journalism.


Read any of our magazines and books, and it is clear how high a standard we put on our writing. To achieve it, we hire great writers and do just-as-great editing. And we do so fairly and responsibly. Most of the writing community knows this already. Why didn't you?

Sincerely,

Neil

Neil Wertheimer
Editor in Chief
Home & Garden and Health & Wellness Group
The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.


And then I received this email from Mr. Adler:

Hi,

Your PS questions for Neil Wertheimer, from our conversation earlier.

Cheers,

William K. Adler
Vice President, Global Communications
The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
(914) 244-7585


* Why aren't there bylines in FH?
As a brand new magazine, Fresh Home was shaped -- and reshaped, and reshaped again -- entirely by a small, internal editorial team. Staffers researched and wrote the bulk of the original articles; freelancers were used to flesh out ideas, gather tips, seek out products, and otherwise assist us in creating this first issue. Because a few staffers generated so much of the copy, we did not use bylines. When the time comes in which we are ongoing and using a broader base of contributors, we will evolve to a byline structure. A new magazine needs to establish a unique voice, style, and personality. My job, as editor in chief, is to deliver that. That is what I will do over the first several issues, by strongly directing the editorial process. With success, we will create a permanent editorial team and I will pass on the reins to them to build a stable of writers, project leaders, editors and photographers.

* What does RDA (and this magazine in particular) pay their writers?
We did not pay on a per-article basis, but rather paid flat rates for expert writers to assist us over a predetermined span of time, using work-for-hire contract language. These freelancers spent time in our offices, voiced their opinions, and jumped in as needed. If and when the magazine succeeds, we will evolve to a more standard structure of seeking article pitches and paying on a per-article basis. We look forward to that time. But for now, we will rely primarily on internal staff to launch this brand and conceive of the articles, with freelancers brought in to assist as appropriate. It would not be appropriate to discuss the individuals' fees, but they were fair and substantial.

* What parts of Fresh Home used "repurposed" RDA content?
Why does RDA believe that the content from American writers is so expensive that it's prohibitive for Fresh Home and Best You to use it?

We don't believe that; this was your own interpretation of comments in the conversation with Mr. Magazine. The major costs for a magazine like Fresh Home isn't in the writing, and we are not stinting on writers' fees. The big costs are in the photography. The main repurposing savings alluded to came by using projects for which RDA had already commissioned the photography. These include projects like the Double Duty Divider, One Design, Three Tables; Room to Move; Sturdy Footstool; Spicy Solutions; etc. To create and photograph these projects from scratch would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and would have taxed our start-up team far beyond our limits. We are fortunate to already own terrific projects and photos though; no one could sensibly argue against our using them.

###


Later on Sunday, March 1, 2009: The emails were pouring in:

Minutes after the newsletter went out, emails began arriving:

"I love that you stood up for writers and against RDA in the newsletter this morning."

"Your use of "re-purposed" content destroys the legacy of your institution and, in so doing, eliminates its value...You have sacrificed the very heart of the product upon which your reputation was based, in order to obtain a short-term advantage on your balance sheets."


March 1, 2009: I wrote the following in the Wooden Horse Magazine News newsletter:

"Dear readers,

Reader's Digest wants to be big. Really big.

According to one of their executives, they want to become "the world's largest multi-platform community based on branded content."

Being in business to make money is not in question, but this is what angers The Horse: You don't climb to the top on the backs of other people. In this case, American writers (and we suspect, other nationalities as well.) What is it with American magazine publishers that they feel they can suck every ounce of creativity out of their freelancers, yet hand them a check that often isn't even minimum wage?

Here's the story - let's see if you don't get as angry as we are:

First off, all the communications are published in their entirety and are verbatim.

Finding out that Reader's Digest Association (RDA) would launch several new magazines in February, we published the information.

However, it didn't take long for our excitement to drop like a rock as we found the content would be "re-purposed." Clicking on our weasel word radar, it became evident that "re-purposed" really meant "outsourced," or, created by someone "we can pay even less than our regular contributors."

Trying to understand the situation before we put our hoof in our mouth, we sent this email to RDA's William Adler, Vice President, Global Communications (the only publicity staffer on their website whose email doesn't bounce.) But I guess Wooden Horse wasn't important enough because we never heard from Mr. Adler. Not even our voice mails were acknowledged.

We eventually obtained the email address of one of the publicists working on the magazine, FRESH HOME, that bothers us most and we emailed her:

"In a phone interview with journalism professor Samir Husni, which he published on Feb 8, 2009 at http://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/alyce-alston-a-purpose-driven-publisher-whos-helping-reinvent-the-publishing-model/, RDA President of the Home & Garden and Health & Wellness Alyce Alston talked about the new magazines Best You and Fresh Home. She is quoted as saying that these will use 're-purposed content.'

Husni quoted Ms Alston: 'We will not do it if it was not for the content re-purposing. The cost will make it prohibitive in today's marketplace. I have no other choice.'

Our company, Wooden Horse Publishing, at http://www.woodenhorsepub.com, produces a weekly newsletter for thousands of people involved or interested in the magazine industry. In view of the launch of Fresh Home, I would like to publish Ms Alston's explanation as to why content from American writers is so expensive that it is prohibitive for a large publisher such as RDA to obtain it. The way many of our readers see it, writers' fees alone are too low to be the deciding factor. And, even outsourced content must be Americanized by an editor, so where are the savings? I would appreciate if Ms Alston can be as detailed as possible."

We received the following from the publicist:

"Below are two quotes from Alyce Alston in addition to comments regarding the re-purposing of content from Fresh Home. My apologies again for getting this to you late and thank you for extending your deadline.

'Our company's vision is to create the world's largest multi-platform community based on branded content. So, for us, the exercise is not about how we derive the content -- it may be original, created by us, or from other sources -- but rather creating a common thread that is presented under our (or a partner's) brand.'

'Our goal is serving the reader-the customer-and we achieve that by repurposing content which originally derived from what the customer asked for and, therefore, has been incredibly successful.'

RDA publishes both original and repurposed content. We publish 92 magazines including 50 editions of RD and 42 other titles, as well as selling millions of books each year.

RDA also pledges to deliver the content to our customers how and when they want it, and in what form. So one of RDA's strengths is that we can take excellent content and deliver it online, via DVD, via a magazine, or in a book, just to name the obvious examples.

Having said that, of course repurposed content is a cost-effective publishing model, and this is essential these days and MORE than essential during the recession. It is partly because they can repurpose content that they are comfortable with their model to the point of launching new publications during the recession.

RDA's global geographic reach is another of their core strengths, and they consciously look for content that 'travels well.' For example, Fresh Home uses some content from the young, hip Australian edition of The Family Handyman, and Best You uses content from Best Health, a magazine launched in Canada last year that is off to a very fast start. Dollar Savvy features articles of advice on stretching dollars culled from a variety of reliable sources in the RDA content library."

You've got to be kidding!

"...the exercise is not about how we derive the content..."

"...repurposed content is a cost-effective publishing model..."

Is that how RDA thinks about writers? As some sort of inert part of the "publishing model."

And not just American writers. With this attitude, publishers probably didn't pay much to the Australian and Canadian writers of the original content either.

If you are as angry as we are, we'll have a few suggestions on how to fight back at the end of this newsletter."

And...

So, are you still angry over "re-purposed content" and think writers deserve better treatment? Are you sick of hearing "it's always been done this way" or "there's not much you can do about it." Do you want to halt the downhill slide of writers' rights and pay?

Then, help make BEST YOU and FRESH HOME two colossal flops for Reader's Digest! Don't buy them yourself and convince your friends, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, your writers' groups and everyone on the Internet not to buy them. Blog about your concern, tweet about it, add it to your website, FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn pages and forums. Inform your chat groups, writer's circles and networks.

And most of all tell Reader's Digest: Email William Adler at william.adler@rd.com. Tell him that you are not buying Best You and Fresh Home because outsourcing content hurts all writers. And that you are telling everybody you know not to buy the magazines.

Can it work? Yes, it can. (Hmm...catchy phrase)

If angry moms can get commercials off the air and Facebook subscribers can get the company to change its terms and conditions, a swarm of angry writers can get the word out that they want to be treated fairly.

Make it happen.


And...as usual, encourage someone to read - just not Best You or Fresh Home,

Meg"


Feb 24, 2009: Email to publicity agency for 'Fresh Home' magazine:

Having not heard from Mr. Adler, I sent the same email to the publicity agency hired by RDA for 'Fresh Home' magazine.

Then I waited.

On Feb 24 after some back-and-forth communications, we received the following from the publicist:

"Below are two quotes from Alyce Alston in addition to comments regarding the re-purposing of content from Fresh Home. My apologies again for getting this to you late and thank you for extending your deadline.

'Our company's vision is to create the world's largest multi-platform community based on branded content. So, for us, the exercise is not about how we derive the content -- it may be original, created by us, or from other sources -- but rather creating a common thread that is presented under our (or a partner's) brand.'

'Our goal is serving the reader-the customer-and we achieve that by repurposing content which originally derived from what the customer asked for and, therefore, has been incredibly successful.'

RDA publishes both original and repurposed content. We publish 92 magazines including 50 editions of RD and 42 other titles, as well as selling millions of books each year.

RDA also pledges to deliver the content to our customers how and when they want it, and in what form. So one of RDA's strengths is that we can take excellent content and deliver it online, via DVD, via a magazine, or in a book, just to name the obvious examples.

Having said that, of course repurposed content is a cost-effective publishing model, and this is essential these days and MORE than essential during the recession. It is partly because they can repurpose content that they are comfortable with their model to the point of launching new publications during the recession.

RDA's global geographic reach is another of their core strengths, and they consciously look for content that 'travels well.' For example, Fresh Home uses some content from the young, hip Australian edition of The Family Handyman, and Best You uses content from Best Health, a magazine launched in Canada last year that is off to a very fast start. Dollar Savvy features articles of advice on stretching dollars culled from a variety of reliable sources in the RDA content library."


Feb 11, 2009: The initial email to Reader's Digest Association:

I noticed an interview on journalism professor Samir Husni's Mr. Magazine blog. [http://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/alyce-alston-a-purpose-driven-publisher-whos-helping-reinvent-the-publishing-model]. Being a freelance writer (or at least was before I became busy running Wooden Horse,)

I didn't ring true to me that the small amounts freelancers are paid could be the deciding factor for RDA when launching new magazines, so I emailed the following to William Adler, Vice President, Global Communications of Reader's Digest Association (RDA):

"In a phone interview with journalism professor Samir Husni, which he published on Feb 8, 2009 at http://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/alyce-alston-a-purpose-driven-publisher-whos-helping-reinvent-the-publishing-model/, RDA President of the Home & Garden and Health & Wellness Alyce Alston talked about the new magazines Best You and Fresh Home. She is quoted as saying that these will use "re-purposed content."

Husni quoted Ms Alston: "We will not do it if it was not for the content re-purposing. The cost will make it prohibitive in today's marketplace. I have no other choice."

Our company, Wooden Horse Publishing, at http://www.woodenhorsepub.com, produces a weekly newsletter for thousands of people involved or interested in the magazine industry. In view of the launch of Fresh Home, I would like to publish Ms Alston's explanation as to why content from American writers is so expensive that it is prohibitive for a large publisher such as RDA to obtain it. The way many of our readers see it, writers' fees alone are too low to be the deciding factor. But even outsourced content must be Americanized by an editor, so where are the savings? I would appreciate if Ms Alston can be as detailed as possible.

Our deadline is Saturday February 21, 2009.

Meg Weaver
mweaver@woodenhorsepub.com
WOODEN HORSE - tools to select and contact magazines
(503) 338-4300
Website at http://www.woodenhorsepub.com
Instant magazine news at twitter.com/WoodenHorsePub"


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