In answer to recent reports of financial trouble at Montreal-based children’s publisher Lobster Press, president and publisher Alison Fripp says she intends to persevere, making changes in the business and paying money owed to authors and illustrators.
“I am currently taking a fresh look at our overall operations so that after 15 years I can do things better for the company and our authors,” Fripp wrote in an email to PW.“I am tired of running a company that makes little or no money. It's not fair to my contributors or suppliers or staff. Something must change.”
Lobster Press contributors who talked to PW on the condition of anonymity agree that something has to change. Most had not been paid any royalties for two years or more, and they said they were frustrated and angry because Fripp was not communicating with them about the fate of the company, their work and pay, particularly since Lobster closed its office in downtown Montreal and its phone line is not working. Some said they want the rights for their books to revert back to them, as they would if the publisher closed.
“Are they really going to attempt to stay open... and hold our rights hostage and not reprint our books and still continue to pull in unsuspecting authors and illustrators?,” asked one author. “Is it just a question of time? Do they think they’ll be getting their financial footing back? Will I eventually be paid? Will my books get printed? Or will the rights eventually revert back to me?”
Fripp’s email to PW indicated she does intend to get Lobster Press back on solid financial footing. “My number one priority is to find a way to become current on royalties,” she wrote.“And to do that I have had to cut costs, and staff. I will not be publishing any new titles this fall but will be focusing on our incredible backlist of popular titles which continue to sell strongly.”
Fripp said she plans to reprint titles that are out of print and in demand. She added that “some authors may ask for their rights back because of unpaid royalties, but most of our authors know that we are doing whatever we can to be in a position to pay royalties and are waiting so patiently.”
Lobster Press has come back from the brink once before. It filed for creditor protection in 2003, restructured and recovered.
The Writers’ Union of Canada recently warned its members that some contracts with Lobster Press include a clause that retains 50% ownership of a work even if the rights revert back to the author. The union has asked Lobster Press to remove this clause, which is not in keeping with the industry standard that returns all rights to the author, but so far it has not received a response.