W&P's roving reporter Sarah Broadley talks to Tony Bradman about ALCS, editing and diversity in history

Where do people go to find out about ALCS and the benefits membership can bring?

The thing I always say about ALCS (Authors Licencing & Collecting Society) is that it is an essential part of a writer’s life. If you’re involved in writing and you write a book, it’s published, and it’s your copyright, then there's the possibility it may be reused in some way and you should be entitled to a return for that use. That’s why ALCS exists – to provide a collective solution in which small amounts of money for the use of our works in all sorts of different contexts, which are outside our main contracts, can be monetised and for the money to go back to the original creator.


Originally, ALCS was founded to make sure we got paid for photocopies of our books, particularly in schools. And then payment for the re-use of TV material, cable and cable re-transmissions, was added, so it’s grown and grown over the years. The stuff that we as creators produce and the way that people want to use it is a huge factor. They have to buy the original book but they can then use it in other ways – scanning, photocopy etc which is what ALCS monetises. The rationale is that it’s too hard for an individual or publisher to keep a check on every school and university in the country, so that’s why ALCS exists. Publishers share their members as well, so we work alongside them in doing that.


Created over 44 years ago, ALCS has generated nearly £600 million for writers over that period. And it is shocking to me that people don’t know about it, because there are lots of things about the business of writing that some people don’t understand. Publishing contracts are hard in itself and most people are grateful to get one and will rely on their agent, if they have one, to negotiate and explain it, working out royalties, territories etc, which is difficult enough, but ALCS is beyond that.


Unless you join the Society of Authors or The Writers’ Guild, the two unions, then you might not find out about us. Your publisher won’t tell you about ALCS, although your agent might. Over the years, we’ve persuaded a lot of publishers to put a clause in their contracts which reference ALCS and we also ask them to spread the word, but it can be a bit hit and miss. 


It’s probably one of those things that you have no idea existed until you get published but if you don’t join the unions then you're probably not going to find out about it – it can be as simple as that. The group we’re finding it particularly hard to reach are those who don’t join either group. It's a really difficult thing to work out how to get to them.


Unfortunately, many writers don’t join ALCS yet publish lots of things, and so they'll miss out on monies due to them. The ALCS communications team does a lot of work on speaking to writers’ groups, promoting ourselves to writers, creating courses for writers, author talks at universities, so we’re constantly trying to make people aware of ALCS. We also encourage our members to tell their mates so, if you know anyone starting out on their writing adventure, let them know about ALCS.


There is a fee to join ALCS but it's paid with your first payment and then you’re a lifetime member. The Society of Authors and The Writers’ Guild are very good at making people aware of ALCS and also encouraging people to sign up. It’s very similar to PLR (Public Lending Rights) – you don’t know about that until you’ve joined the SOA or the WG. Same scenario – if you don’t know about PLR and you’ve been published for ten years, your book will have been borrowed many times but you’d only get one year’s payments and not the previous nine!

When you log in to update your account on ALCS, you’re asked for the ISBN or ISSN number which is allocated to the published entry you’re updating whether it is a book, script, magazine feature etc. Can you explain what these are and where members can find them?

An ISSN is a bit like an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). If you’re a publisher, for example, there’s a website you can obtain one from. As a creative, if it’s not visible on their website then you can approach them and ask for that information and, if they don’t have one, then you can’t apply for payment for that particular article/publication. The team at ALCS can help with this though, so please contact them if you’re struggling to get any information.

Obviously, ALCS is for authors, is there an equivalent for illustrators? What advice would you give to illustrators to make sure their work is being paid for when reused?

There are several groups for illustrators – I know a lot of children’s book illustrators who are members of DACS (Design Artists Copyright Society) and then there’s PIXEL. ALCS and PLS (Publishers’ Licencing Services) collaborate with the CLA (Copyright Licencing Agency) which DACS and PIXEL are members of too. So, when the photocopying monies come in, it’s split between the CLA members – authors, publishers and artists. 


The CLA is a central hub and visual artists are very much part of that. Also, if you’re a picture book illustrator you can become a member of ALCS because you’re considered an author as your name is on the book too! Over the last few years, ALCS has collected money for visual contributions too. So DACS collects money for visual contributions and ALCS does as well so you can register your images via ALCS (if you’re already a member) and see if that’s going to work. However, I would advise illustrators to look at both (although you can’t join and claim for the same works through both). 


If you look at the ALCS website there is a lot of information on there to help.

How do the payments work? Payments are made twice a year but how do ALCS calculate them?

It’s a very complex operation. If you look at it as a cluster of organisations, there’s ALCS and then there’s also the CLA. Every creative has rights but so does the publisher. If a book is photocopied then it should be split between all parties involved. 


That’s why CLA was created over 40 years ago (around 100 employees processing data today). It’s a mechanism where authors and publishers collect the money and divide it fairly between them all. So ALCS had to agree splits – there are various types – magazines, books, journal articles, series. Some are 50/50, some are not. Magazines tend to split more in favour of the company as most features are written by staff, so some staff don’t have rights as they’re not freelancers. However, magazine freelancers are paid too, obviously.


There are a variety of income streams, the main one being photocopying in schools, colleges and universities. We have to collect data on what is copied and that flows through to CLA. The money for this comes from the Department of Education (DoE). Every three to five years we licence schools, colleges and universities to give them the right to photocopy (there’s a limit – 10% of the book or a chapter). The money comes from DoE and the data comes from CLA – these are then married up and split between the relevant parties (ALCS, DACS etc). Once received by ALCS, the team look at all the numbers and apportions the amount to members according to the data.


There are a lot of complex workings which go on in the IT system (massive royalty system, probably bigger and better than most publishers). There are also foreign equivalents of ALCS which do the same in their own territories and then send money with data to CLA on books and magazines which then has to be assessed and passed through the system. Sometimes they send money and say ‘this is for UK authors’ but don’t say who it is. So, on your statement where it says ‘top up’, this is where unallocated amounts are split between members.


CLA doesn’t do TV so ALCS also has links with organisations around the world for TV, retransmission, cable, film rights, radio… all that kind of stuff. That money and data comes to ALCS and some is specific to programmes, times, broadcasts but again some of it is unallocated so it has to be divided up.


Some countries have a Private Copying Levy so if your work is on tape recorders or copying machines of any kind, they charge a levy which is then distributed back to all creators, producers and publishers. Again, it is divided up equally between all the members if it remains unallocated to an individual.


Sometimes money will arrive for creators who are not members so the team will try to find who they are. Some people think it’s a scam so we need to persuade them that we are genuine, that they have the money waiting for them and, as soon as they join, it can get passed on to them. Understandably if we ask people for their bank details, though, so that we can give them some money, it’s right to be dubious! Sometimes ALCS can’t find the person who is due the money so it’s kept and invested over the years. This money goes towards paying a lot of the costs of the company such as salaries, overheads etc.  

The easiest way to think of it is as a pipeline of money and data that comes into CLA and is then divided up accordingly, flowing out to relevant creators and the money is then matched.

We live in an ever-changing digital world, are there any plans for ALCS to change the way they process payments, align data or even how they work as an organisation?


We do think about the future and we’re in the middle of a strategy process at the moment. Our CEO, Owen Atkinson, is brilliant and he does think long term and has ideas for change over the next 3-5 years.


Books are a huge part of our world and always will be. The e-book market is there but hasn’t wiped anyone out. In the children’s world, digital is complex because it’s hard to access the younger age groups – there are not many five-year-olds out there who read kindles! On the flip side of that, the educational sector is really, really important, which is why we continually make sure our systems are fit for purpose and that they can handle the complexity of what we’re doing now but with an eye to the future. If things are going to change, we don’t want to be caught out.


We are constantly watching for changes in the landscape. For example, Owen and his team look out for areas of concern. In Finland, NVPR (similar to the recording box for your Sky TV), this is now possible to be done in the cloud. This technically is a different right so we can charge for that as well by getting a licence for that process, which is easy and seems to be the direction people are going in. They’re also making changes to the second-hand book market where shops need to contribute to author share. The last payment to authors was £200,000 split between members. It’s perhaps only 5p per book but it could be a vast market once everyone is on board. The secret is to track down where the money is and see what people are doing with our work and to ask the question ‘is that fair?’ They all want the stuff but we need to make sure that our members are rewarded for that. As a freelance writer you have to be light on your feet and aware of what’s going on, looking ahead for opportunities and thinking about what you might do next year, the year after that and so on. ALCS are really good at this, especially networking with organisations to ensure members are getting a good service.


I’ve talked to a lot of writers over the years and people can be blinded by the big advances and the huge deals. They think ‘wow, that’s a lot of money’ but they’re unsure what their financial future holds when that doesn’t happen for them. ALCS can be relied upon to provide another income stream. A writing career can last a long time, so any financial help out there should be swept up by all because not everyone gets the big advances.


I urge everyone to embrace the system – get every book signed up for PLR, register with ALCS and regularly update your account as you progress with your publications and articles. Track down what your publishers are doing for you, breathe down their necks, make sure your contract’s right. All these different smaller incomes can build up over the years and that can provide a basis so that you are able to be a full time creative. 

Now for a little about you, Tony. You’ve collaborated with your son on projects and also edited a historical Book Trust series with other authors, is this kind of creative work something that you’re keen to keep doing?

Yes, it kind of goes back a long way and satisfies the activist and politically driven part of me. I’m always interested in diversity. Twenty years ago now, I edited an anthology called Skin Deep about racism and I was introduced to so many amazing writers – Siobhan Dowd being one of them. I knew I wouldn’t go straight into writing after I left university so I became a journalist and wrote for magazines (where I also started reviewing children’s books). I did that for eleven years and spent more time editing (as a features editor and sub editor) than writing. I was always interested in the editing side of things and worked closely with many writers which meant I gained an understanding of the writing life from both sides. I edited a lot of poetry and short story anthologies too. All the editing of other people's work which I've done over the years, I think, has made me a better writer.


So, to summarise, two things really - diversity and having grown up in multi-cultural south London - came together in the series Voices. I liked working with Scholastic so I approached them with an idea about diverse books. Everyone wanted them but they initially said that they were harder to sell and that the market that would go for a diverse book was smaller. I disagreed with this, so I suggested that they create a series of diverse books written by diverse authors set in national curriculum history periods. Teachers are very keen to get diverse books they can use with classes working on the Tudors, the Romans, the Victorians etc. This country is also absolutely obsessed with World War II, so I asked them: ‘Did you know at Dunkirk there was an Indian Transport Battalion commanded by Paddy Ashdown’s dad? He was ordered to abandon them and come back on his own and he refused and was court martialled afterwards.’ The conversation went on and I suggested that we get someone brilliant like Bali Rai to write a book from the point of view of a young Asian soldier at Dunkirk.


Thankfully they loved the idea as much as I did and we did four in the series with Bali Rai, E L Norry, Leila Rasheed and Patrice Lawrence. They brought to light a lot of racism within our history that would never normally reach the classroom research shelves. We’ve done a couple more, now with Kereen Getten about slavery and set in the 18th century, and another about the Windrush generation with Benjamin Zephaniah. It’s been great to work with these superb writers, over the last few years and to see the books becoming very successful.

If you could collaborate with anyone on a writing project, who would it be?

I’ve written quite a few books with my son Tom, and that’s been great. One even won a prize. Titanic: Death on the Water (Bloomsbury Educational) was a Bradman and Son co-production and won a Young Quills award from the Historical Association! Tom's also written quite a few books for educational publishers on this own, and (proud Dad moment!) I think he’s a brilliant writer.


Apart from that, I’m quite happy working on my own at the moment although I do like editing other people. If the right thing came up, I’m sure I’d be happy to work with someone else. I’ve got several ideas for novels I’d like to work on and that would probably keep me going for quite a few years. I also do quite a bit of editing… I’ve recently edited a whole series of High-Low books for the excellent educational publisher Rising Stars. They’re called Astros and it was great to work with some of the best writers and illustrators for children. I also wrote a graphic novel mini-series with Astros called Forbidden Classroom - it’s spectacular science-fiction in full colour, which just happens to take place in an ordinary school.  It comes out this spring and I really enjoyed working with the editor Hamish Baxter as well as Dylan Gibson, the illustrator.


And last but not least - I’ve got a new book coming out in February with the excellent Barrington Stoke. It’s called Bruno and Frida. It's illustrated by the brilliant Tania Rex, and is about refugees in Germany at the end of World War 2. I’m very proud of that one, too!

Lead photo credit: ALCS


Tony Bradman is an award-winning author, editor and reviewer of children’s books. He has written poetry, picture books and stories for all ages, including historical fiction set in a wide range of periods, from Roman Britain to the First and Second World Wars. For Walker he has written the bestselling Viking Boy, a gripping, immersive adventure story that has become a standard text for children learning about the Vikings; and the equally gripping, award-winning Anglo-Saxon Boy, which explores the Battle of Hastings through the eyes of Magnus, son of Harold, the last Saxon King. He is also the editor behind the highly successful Voices series of novels by writers such as Benjamin Zephaniah and Patrice Lawrence, about the hidden diverse communities of Britain’s history.

About Viking Boy: The Real Story, he says: “I’ve loved everything about the Vikings since I was a boy, so my novel Viking Boy grew out of a desire to write a story that I would have loved to read when I was young. I loved every second of the reading and research - it was also a joy to breathe life into the characters of Viking Boy once more so they can tell readers about themselves and their world.”


Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland. Follow her on Twitter.

Natalie Yates is Writers' Minds editor for Words & Pictures. Follow her on Instagram. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org.

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.