It boils down to two issues with the way they are aggregating blog content:
- Rights: Suvudu Universe retains the content that bloggers submit indefinitely. They can repurpose or resell that content as they see fit.
- Payment: None - not money, books or any other token or in-kind reward.
Since then, there's been an addendum to the terms and conditions:
A note to our contributors, current and considering:
Suvudu.com recently launched Universe using Tidal, a platform that utilizes RSS blog aggregator software. Here at the Universe, we want to emphasize that you, the writers, retain all rights to your written work as Universe contributors. Tidal’s terms and conditions are extensive because they run communities for many different clients who have their own regulations in place. Please rest assured that Suvudu Universe does not plan to sell your content or strip you of recognition for your content. The terms and conditions are meant to protect all parties – you, Suvudu, and Tidal. For the full terms and conditions, see here.
As far as rights are concerned, this explains why the Suvudu contract is structured the way it is. But it doesn't change the situation. Suvudu 'does not plan to sell your content or strip you of recognition for your content' is, no doubt, true, and written with the best of intentions. But it is also legally meaningless. This wording does not modify the terms and conditions, it does not bind Suvudu to a course of action and it does not prevent them from changing their plans at any point in the future. I appreciate that Suvudu have listened to our concerns, but the contract does not protect all parties: it only serves Suvudu and Tidal.
I would also argue that "does not plan to sell your content" is slightly disingenuous wording. Suvudu Universe already has third-party ad placements on the site. They may not be reselling your content directly, but they are already profiting from it.
Which leads to the second concern: there's also still no payment for bloggers in any form. This is not a fan-built group blog like The Ranting Dragon or Fantasy Faction. (Both of which, incidentally, try to compensate their reviewers with free books.) This is Random House, a company that, according to last Friday's interim annual report, had revenues of 947 million euros on its way to "all-time record half-year" earnings before tax (6).
The annual report goes on to mention how Random House has "strategically invested in the development of new digital marketing tools and data analytics to further improve the dialog between readers and authors, and the sales potential for their books" (13). Combined with initiatives like their new ebook imprints, it seems that Random House is aggressively seeking new ways of making money online.
This is fair enough - "digital" is still relatively new territory and figuring it out is what publishing companies need to do to survive. That said, this is a dangerous precedent, and one that bodes ill for bloggers. Random House will take whatever they can - and, unless we push back, why wouldn't they?
Meanwhile, Tor.com has announced a pay raise across the board for all its bloggers. Cheeky.