Do you have a problem with a vendor? A client? A customer? A printer? An author? PMA members have a way to resolve complaints without spending the money and time that litigation entails. The PMA Dispute Resolution Program, adopted in 1999, is designed to assist members who have not been able to come to agreement with individuals or companies they do business with.
Described in a brochure in the PMA orientation packet and in this article, the program involves a combination of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques–some of which are unique to PMA–and the work of wonderful volunteers. At first, it encourages any publisher who is having a dispute with another company (often over finances, sometimes over quality) to work in a “negotiations” mode. Talking about your problem with a fellow publisher quite often helps you take a more objective view.
Then members are encouraged “to take your problem to the top” by seeking out higher management in the company with which they have a problem. Often negotiation at these levels resolves the issue more satisfactorily than some outsider could. However, sometimes the presence of an outsider is required; in that case, a past PMA President will act as an “intervener” to facilitate a satisfactory resolution. Gary Moselle and Howard Fisher have been extremely helpful in this role.
The “intervener” contacts both parties, perhaps brings them together if that is geographically or attitudinally possible, and takes whatever other steps seem likely to move the issue toward resolution. If the matter is financial, both parties may have to compromise on some middle dollar amount. If the problem has to do with quality, perhaps the vendor can be persuaded to redo the product or re-provide the service.
If the PMA president-intervener sees the need for a further dispute resolution stage, a professional impartial neutral person will be brought in to try to bring the parties together. Mediation is the first dispute resolution stage that involves a person trained in “crisis intervention” techniques and methods. Bringing disputants together–sometimes by phone, sometimes in person, sometimes with both the complainant and respondent in the same room, sometimes not–the mediator will attempt to bring the parties around to negotiating and compromising. Even after brief contact with the parties in a commercial dispute, the mediator can usually discern whether they can be convinced to try reaching agreement. Without their cooperation, mediation cannot succeed and the matter has to proceed to a final, more formal stage.
This means arbitration, which involves the appointment by the parties of another kind of “third party neutral” who is skilled in conducting semiformal “hearings,” rather like the proceedings in a small-claims court. Although arbitration is less formal than other court procedures, it requires the parties to come to a scheduled hearing prepared to present evidence and argument bearing on their case. Commercial arbitrations often involve many thousands of dollars in claims but hearings may take only a day or half a day and the process is usually less expensive than litigation.
In both mediation and arbitration, the PMA Program requires that the parties to the dispute be responsible for their own expenses and for paying any fees charged by the appointed neutral person or people. Sometimes the neutral people provide services “pro bono”–that is without any fee. Options–which the program administrator will discuss with the parties if that becomes necessary–may include using mediation services funded by the government or other grant sources.
Several specific examples show the types of complaints that the program has handled.
In one case, after an author contracted with a PMA publisher/marketer member to produce, market, and distribute several books, the author became dissatisfied with the results of the work. The final dispute was over approximately $1,700 in services. The PMA President who was assigned to help worked for 15 hours over a period of several weeks to bring the parties together and persuaded the author to pay the outstanding debt.
Another case involved a PMA member who had a dispute with his contractor over printing costs. That dispute was resolved successfully after 11 hours of past-President intervention.
In a third case, a dispute between a book distributor and a publisher over distribution activities could not be resolved through intervention and was mediated by a professional. Through phone calls with the parties separately and together, the mediator tried to get them to agree on a solution but the matter remains unresolved.
A final example involved a successful intervention by a PMA past-President when an author merely neglected to pay a freight bill from his publisher/distributor. The author agreed that he owed the money once he was compelled to check his records at the request of the intervener and the matter was successfully closed.
The dispute resolution program is available to any PMA member who needs help resolving a dispute swiftly and at low cost. If you find yourself in that position, begin by calling PMA’s Executive Director, Jan Nathan, who may be able to solve your problem quickly because of her vast experience in the publishing field. If not, we will put the PMA Dispute Resolution Program to work for you.
Phil Tamoush is Publisher at Oakwood Publications. Currently a PMA Board Member, he assists PMA in administering its Dispute Resolution Program. For more information and advice, contact him at 310/378-9245.
Six Steps toward Resolving Disputes
- Make your best effort to resolve the dispute.
- Take your problem to the top.
- Contact PMA’s Dispute Resolution Program.
- Accept Intervention (by a PMA past-President).
- Seek Mediation.
- Submit to Arbitration.