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O.J.’s Book Contract

O.J. Simpson ‘s book contract with HarperCollins turned up in an amended complaint  filed on Jan. 16 by Fred Goldman as part of Goldman’s lawsuit to recover from Simpson (and now, newly named to the suit, HarperCollins) whatever money Simpson earned from his cancelled memoir/murder confession, If I Did It. (Goldman is the father of Ronald Goldman, killed along with Nicole Brown Simpson on June 12, 1994.) Court TV posted the complaint online, giving all of us a chance to scrutinize Simpson’s publishing deal. For your convenience, I extracted the book contract from Goldman’s complaint and posted it below and on the following 21 pages. I then asked a couple of book agents to look over the contract and share their impressions. Here are their findings:

1.) HarperCollins is out at least $780,000, of which at least $655,000 goes, and possibly already has gone, to Simpson. This is the portion of Simpson’s $1.1 million advance for which Simpson has satisfied the terms of the agreement. (See Page 7.) The $125,000 difference between what HarperCollins pays out and what Simpson receives is the share paid to the ghostwriter, Pablo Fenjves.

2.) HarperCollins may owe Simpson an additional $95,000 on his advance, which would bring Simpson’s total up to $750,000. Or it may not. The payment hinges  on the meaning of the word, “published.” The contract (again, Page 7) says that Simpson (aka “the Proprietor,” technically a shell corporation  Simpson set up for the probable purpose of eluding creditors) shall be paid $95,000 “upon the Publisher’s first publication of a hardcover edition of the Work.” But when is a book “published”? When it’s printed up and sent to warehouses and  stores? If so, then If I Did It was published and HarperCollins must shell out. But if a book is published when store managers remove copies from their boxes and display them on store shelves, then If I Did It was not published, because (at least as far as anyone knows) no copy was ever placed within customers’ reach. If a book is published only when its official publication date arrives, then we can say with certainty that If I Did It was never published. If either of these latter two definitions is deemed correct, then HarperCollins doesn’t have to shell out. Lawyers for Simpson and HarperCollins are likely battling this out.

3.) HarperCollins could have avoided paying fully $400,000 of Simpson’s advance had anyone thought to alter ever so slightly Clause 21(c)7 (also on Page 7). This clause says Simpson will be paid $400,000 “upon the Author’s completion” of his first interview to publicize the book. The contract has earlier stipulated (see bottom of Page 3) that HarperCollins will set up this first interview, that the interview will last one hour, and that it will air on TV. Had this first interview been with Barbara Walters on ABC, as HarperCollins briefly envisioned, then the phrase “upon the Author’s completion” wouldn’t cause anybody indigestion. But ABC passed on the interview, and publisher Judith Regan decided to perform the interview herself on Fox, which, like HarperCollins, is a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. In November, Murdoch decided, after a great hue and cry from the public, to cancel both book and interview. Trouble was, the interview had already been taped. Simpson had completed the interview, even though it hadn’t yet aired. Whoops!

4.) Simpson ended up in clover, receiving the bulk of his advance while never having to take the legally risky step of actually publishing his not-so-hypothetical  murder confession. (To read Newsweek’s summary of the chapter in which Simpson describes killing his ex-wife and the man he presumed to be her lover, click here.) HarperCollins reserved the right to compel Simpson to record If I Did It as an audiobook (see Page 19), though if Simpson had performed this ghoulish task we probably would have heard about that by now.

5.) It’s very unlikely that an experienced literary agent was consulted in the drafting of this contract. The main evidence is the boilerplate language concerning royalties. On Page 4, the contract stipulates that Simpson will receive 10 percent on the first 5,000 sales of the hardcover book, 12.5 percent on the second 5,000, and 15 percent on all subsequent hardcover sales. This is what any schmuck who writes a book gets offered. For a blockbuster, which If I Did It was all but certain to be (despite the public opprobrium, or possibly because of it), an agent will typically insist the author receive 15 percent from the very first sale, and a publisher will typically relent because he knows the book will sell a lot more than 10,000 copies. On Page 5, the contract says Simpson will receive 8 percent on the first 150,000 copies of the paperback, and 10 percent on everything after that. A savvier agent would have known Simpson could probably get 15 percent on most or all of these sales, too. Said one of my experts: “Nobody negotiated these royalties.”

6.) Somebody (probably Simpson or his representative, Bret Saxon) seems to have gotten the harebrained idea that Simpson should sign the contract under an assumed name. Check out Clause 28 on Page 17. It says Simpson “shall deliver to the Publisher a copy of the letter attached as Exhibit A signed by Sam Jones.” Sam Jones? The letter in question appears on Page 22, signed at the bottom not by “Sam Jones” but by O.J. Simpson, presumably at HarperCollins’ insistence. Simpson may have gotten the pseudonym from a famous African American basketball player  for the Boston Celtics in the 1960s.

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