January 15, 2013

Condé Nast to claim rights to their writers’ film and TV deals


In an effort to capture more of the film and television profits from work that began on their pages, Condé Nast is negotiating new contracts that offer authors at Vogue, Wired and Vanity Fair what some say is a bad deal.

In short, less of a percentage if their work is optioned, and for a limited time, the possibility of only being optioned by Condé Nast Entertainment.

Christine Haughney writes in the New York Times that,

“The contracts also show that if Condé Nast decides to option the article, writers receive $2,500 to $5,000 for a 12-month option. If an article is developed into a major feature film, writers receive no more than 1 percent or $150,000 toward the purchase price. Television programs and made-for-television movies are capped at even lower amounts, especially for less experienced writers. These arrangements are agreed to before an article has even been published.”

Their magazines may claim exclusive rights over a story from one month to a year.

The move has infuriated agents. Paul Aken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told Alexander C. Kaufman at The Wrap that,

“It’s far outside the traditions of the industry…It’s less than 50 percent of a typical deal of what a writer would get when their book or magazine story is made into a movie or a television show…Big-name authors will negotiate entirely around this and the option clause will be stricken from their contracts, [a]nd for authors with less clout, the money would make a substantial difference.”

Also, as another agent tells Haughney, “it doesn’t give authors the option or the alternative to go elsewhere for their movie and television rights, and therefore there’s no competition”.

Not to mention, Condé Nast Entertainment clearly intends to develop some of the content themselves. They have made several new hires for that reason, including Dawn Ostroff, who has considerable experience with television — she was previously the president of the CW television network — and was recently brought in to run Condé Nast Entertainment.

Last year, the Hollywood Reporter quoted Ostroff as saying that Condé Nast Entertainment intended to take “some of the great stories from our magazines and do them for the screen ourselves.” This might leave some writers questioning the scale and quality of the final product, if a group that is not a Hollywood studio is taking their work to the screen.

The profits to be had for a successful adaptation are not too shabby. As Haughney details,

“Condé Nast articles led to the movie “Argo,” which so far has generated $166 million in worldwide box-office sales, “Eat Pray Love,” which made $204 million in global sales and “Brokeback Mountain,” which brought in $178 million.”

Without hearing more from Condé Nast about their strategy here, and what plan they have, if any, to protect and develop young writers who aren’t able to use their clout to negotiate a better deal, it’s hard to say entirely what the practical effect will be.

It’s an interesting development however, and one that many other publishers and writers will surely be watching.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.