The world’s richest short story prize: a warning

“The large print giveth and the small print taketh away,” is a phrase that may well apply to what’s claimed to be the world’s richest short story prize. Last week I wrote about how the clock was ticking on entries for The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award – worth £30,000. This week, somewhat chastened, I feel I should add a warning.

The caveats are buried in the Terms and Conditions, that small print I alluded to. Running to over 4,000 words, (about ten printed pages), they include, for example, Clause 4.1:

4.1 Entrants retain all rights to their entries, but by submitting a story for the Award; Entrants acknowledge and agree that the winning, shortlisted, and/or any other Entrant grants to TNL, its affiliates, licensees (including Audible), successors and assigns (“TNL Parties”) a worldwide sub-licensable, perpetual, transferable, non-exclusive, royalty free licence to use the Entry in any way whatsoever including but not limited to, public performance, public display, publishing, reproduction, communication to the public, amendment, abridgement, or modification of the Entry or any part of the Entry, transmission and distribution of the Entry or any part of the Entry (either as an individual Entry, with other Entries and/or other third party content) on and through the website or any website, app or other digital product associated with any of the TNL Parties (whether or not only available to subscribers), and/or on and through any online store, app/e-book store (including but not limited to Amazon, Audible, iTunes and/or Google Play), and/or any newspaper or other publication published or owned by any TNL Parties in its different present and future forms, for example newsprint, Braille, talking book, podcast, audio download, audiobook, electronic databases, e-paper, mobile device application, electronic media or website, including mobile form or any other facsimile or derivative versions in any medium.

Got that? No, me neither. (That’s one single sentence; 211 words. Do lawyers ever read their stuff aloud…?)

What it actually means is that by simply entering the competition, you are giving TNL (Times Newspapers Limited – The Sunday Times‘ parent company), Audible and any TNL licensee a perpetual right to use your story (or any part of it) in any way they want, anywhere in the world, without payment to or permission from you. Just by entering the competition.

Quite simply, it’s a rights grab.

Okay, it’s a “non-exclusive” rights grab. That means you could sell your story elsewhere, but only as a reprint. (Many publishers insist on “first rights” to a new work, so you’re screwed.) And I’m not even certain you could enter the story in another competition under these conditions.

Sure, competition organisers have the right to reserve first publication rights of the winning stories, but claiming perpetual rights to every single entry is a bit on the nose.

But wait, there’s more – as Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss points out:

Shortlisted authors enter into a 12-month exclusive contract with Audible, for which they are given a “one-off” lump-sum payment (the £1,000 noted above). But thereafter, Audible retains the right “to record, distribute and market such audio version for at least ten (10) years.” Again, this right is non-exclusive–but there’s no indication that Audible has to pay these authors for potentially exploiting their work for a decade. (If you don’t consent to these terms, you can’t be shortlisted.)

She continues:

Finally, although publication is guaranteed only for the shortlist, TNL reserves the right to publish longlist and non-listed entries as well. Great! Except…there’s nothing to suggest these writers would be paid either.

So go ahead and enter if you’re eligible, (see last week’s post). And if you happen to win it, £30,000 is a rich reward. But if you don’t even make the long-list, you might lose a little more than you anticipated.

Entries close 6pm on December 13, 2019.

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