A Twitter Thread on Shopping Agreements
Archived here for posterity.
1. Team Scalzi was approached today with a query about a “shopping agreement” for one of my properties. A “shopping agreement” is basically where a film/TV producer asks permission to pitch a work in a room without having paid an option up front…
2. … with the idea being that if they get a studio/streamer/network/etc excited about it, they can quickly put together a package and then an option would follow after. And if not, well, then… not.
So, I'm not a fan of shopping agreements, and let me tell you why.
3. (Disclaimer: What follows is a disquisition about a first world problem told from the perspective of someone with a non-trivial amount of privilege, etc BUT which I still think will be useful to other writers and such. Mileage may vary, and all that. We good? Okay then.)
4. The first reason I’m not a fan of shopping agreements is — no surprise — there is no money! Someone is asking for all the benefit of a film/TV option without paying for it, basically by promising they can get the work a hearing in a room. Well, that’s what an option is FOR.
5. Now, not every producer is rolling around in cash; the mechanics of entertainment production often make the ambitious illiquid. Which I understand and can sympathize with, but regardless, options are table stakes for this game. Writers need to eat, too. And pay bills, etc.
6. There’s a downward pressure on what writers are being offered for options ANYWAY; it does none of us any good to let the bar get down to zero. And also, a producer with an option has skin in the game. They’re incentivized to get a return on the investment. That’s important.
7. Another reason I’m not a fan, related to the first, is that it sets a bad example, and people like me accepting a shopping agreement can be used as a tool against other writers who need money more than we do. If producers say “well, bestsellers give us shopping agreements…”
8. …then we make it harder for other authors who aren’t necessarily bestsellers, and who have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The authors who aren’t financially vulnerable should set a standard for those who might be vulnerable. That means payment for options as a baseline.
9. (“But what about Stephen King and his $1 options?” Those are for film students, for one, but more generally, you’ll find exceptions made for altruism/friendship/quirks. I’m talking about a general business practice. Generally: Encourage writers being paid.)
10. Here’s another reason, as it relates to me: Me offering a shopping agreement isn’t fair to the producers, etc who have paid me options for my work. *They* jumped through the financial hoop and made a financial commitment to me and my work. It would be kind of a dick move…
11. … to turn around and offer someone else for free the thing they paid cash money for. It’s not nice to burn your business partners like that, especially if you want to do equitable business with them in the future, and encourage them to do likewise with others.
12. A final reason for me personally (or the final one I’ll relate here): I don’t need a middleman. If I want a title of mine shopped around LA without being paid for it, I can just have my manager set up meetings. I’ve sold options in the room before. I know how to do it!
13. Will a producer with a more extensive track record than me have a better chance of doing that? Possibly! But honestly, if something’s pitched somewhere and the answer is “no,” that’s it for a while on that. If anyone’s gonna burn a property of mine for free, it’s gonna be me.
14. At the end of the day a shopping agreement is very-low-to-no risk for the would-be producer, and somewhat high risk for the property originator, with no immediate (and probably no later) financial benefit. You’re being offered sizzle but you probably won’t taste the steak.
15. Again, I have a privileged position, so you have to think on the cost and benefit to yourself (and, maybe, to others) when someone comes along offering a shopping agreement. I do think, however, that if an idea is good enough to be pitched, it’s good enough to be optioned.
16. That’s it; that’s the thread. As always with one of these threads, here is a picture of a cat to send you off. Smudge definitely wants me to get paid, because my shopping agreement with him includes tuna.