Authors Guild is Okay with Authors Getting Hurt in Barnes&Noble-Amazon Spat

The Publishers Authors Guild announced earlier today that they've talked B&N down from the ledge. B&N is going to relax their blockade of the print editions of Amazon's ebook exclusive, but only to a small degree. The good news is B&N is relaxing the blockade on the Marshall Cavendish backlist that Amazon acquired last fall. The bad news is that B&N isn't letting any other titles back into their stores. Scott Turow, the head of the Authors Guild, announced the news in a letter to AG members (which was later posted on the G blog). I've read the letter and I find it more than a little disappointing but not at all a surprise.

It seems to me that Scott Turow has long since demonstrated that he is a spokesman for the legacy publishers, not authors. In this letter he justifies the damage that B&N does to the authors in B&N's fight with Amazon. Apparently Scott thinks it is okay for them to be collateral damage in someone else's war. He is certainly not condemning both parties here, just Amazon.

Here's the thing, folks. If Scott really served the interests of authors then this letter wouldn't be couched in terms of Amazon being wrong and B&N being right. I find the use of the word balkanizing a particularly telling detail; both B&N and Amazon are doing it. While Amazon might have done it first, that does not mean that it's okay for B&N to respond in kind.

Here's the letter:

Here’s some welcome news: Barnes & Noble has agreed to our request to bring Marshall Cavendish children’s books back to their stores’ shelves. By our count, more than 250 authors and 150 illustrators have been affected.

How these books got pulled in the first place is a lesson in how exclusive content agreements have begun balkanizing the book marketplace.

In December, Amazon Publishing purchased Marshall Cavendish’s children’s book list, more than 450 children’s and young adult titles. The next month, Barnes & Noble announced that it would not be stocking any Amazon published titles in its stores. B&N released a statement from Jaime Carey, its chief merchandising officer, saying that it would not stock books published by Amazon, “based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent.”

With this announcement, B&N pulled Marshall Cavendish children’s books from its shelves. For Debby Dahl Edwardson, the timing could not have been worse or more devastating. Her most recent book, “My Name is Not Easy,” had been selected as a 2011 National Book Award Finalist. This sort of recognition can transform an author’s career, and authors typically visit countless bookstores to make the most of such opportunities. Ms. Edwardson, however, found her opportunity drastically curtailed. Barnes & Noble removed her book from its shelves (including from the shelves of its store in Fairbanks, Alaska, the one nearest the author’s North Slope home) about two months after the National Book Awards ceremony.

As we’ve made clear over the last several years, we’re very concerned with Amazon’s rapidly growing dominance of bookselling. Exclusive content is a big part of that story. With $9 billion in cash, Amazon can afford to cut more deals as it did with DC Comics to acquire exclusive e-book rights to titles, as it tries to gain the upper hand in the ereader and tablet market.

So we’re sympathetic to the position of brick-and-mortar booksellers, even the largest of them: this isn’t a fair fight, by any stretch. Still, it’s essential that authors and readers not become collateral damage. The authors and illustrators who signed contracts with Marshall Cavendish had no way of anticipating that the publisher would assign their contracts to Amazon. For these authors to lose their vital showroom presence in Barnes & Noble stores was clearly unfair and harmful. Children’s books, especially picture books, need to be seen to be appreciated by readers.

We fear that more and bigger battles in bookselling and book publishing loom in the months ahead. For the sake of authors and readers, we hope those fighting it out will avoid using access to vital literary marketplaces as a weapon.

Unfortunately, this seems unlikely. Amazon is seizing an ever-growing share of the bookselling market, but it’s after far bigger game. Deploying some of its cash to buy publishers with deep backlists is an inexpensive way for Amazon to ensure that its Kindle Fire is an essential device to many readers, who then can be sold movies, TV shows, and music through the platform. Amazon’s history suggests it won’t be shy in these efforts.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble isn’t backing down. Its executives made clear to us that it is making this exception because it announced the policy after Amazon announced its purchase of the Marshall Cavendish titles. For any new Amazon acquisitions, Barnes & Noble’s policy is to ban the books from their shelves.

For now, however, some good news for Marshall Cavendish authors and illustrators.

We’ll keep you posted on any developments.

About Nate Hoffelder (11461 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

18 Comments on Authors Guild is Okay with Authors Getting Hurt in Barnes&Noble-Amazon Spat

  1. Hmm, if I were Bezos, I *would* go and buy a few more publishers.
    It is easy to boycott Amazon when their total catalog is a couple hundred titles, but if builds up enough of a catalog, then they’d choke on it.
    It would take years to get there but Amazon usually plays the long game anyway…

    Maybe Bezos can offer to buy Sterling? 😉

  2. “Balkanizing” is exactly what the hell Barnes & Noble did by using a mutant version of Adobe DRM. And if Turow had any clue about anything, he’d be screaming about that B&N move — because suddenly B&N demands that people have a credit card in order to read any eBook *they* sell. That’s a “feature” of their damned DRM. Does a public library give a damn if I have a credit card to borrow any books? No. Does AMAZON even care if I have a credit card to get literally *thousands* of FREE Kindle books? Hell no! Turow is a moron, period.

    • The BN DRM is actually the least restrictive of any of the major DRM’s. Take any BN file, copy it to any reader than can use the Adobe Social DRM, and all you have to enter is the CC# once on that reader and it’s their book for life. Way less restrictive than mucking through ADE (libraries) or download a new copy onto a certified device (Kindle).

      All DRM sucks, but Adobe Social is still far better than some alternatives.

      • Yes, but no other ebookstore has adopted it. Why? Because all the ereaders that don’t support it would be excluded from said ebookstore. As many Nooks as B&N has sold, they’re still a minority.

        • Given that the new version of ADE (1.8, currently in open beta) supports unlocking Adobe Social ebooks for devices without the built-in software, the point is moot.

      • But you *still* need to give B&N personal financial info to get a frakking free ebook.
        Even some PD titles.
        No encryption-based DRM-scheme is without warts.

  3. Personally, I think B&N is right in this fight. The Amazon apologists attack B&N for being unwilling to help its chief rival sell its exclusive books but fail to attack Amazon for the exclusivity and for being the only significant ebookseller that requires you to have either one of its devices or some of its software to buy even a free and DRM-free ebook. I have been able to buy ebooks from B&N for my Sony without having a B&N app, but I can’t do the same at Amazon.

    As for the B&N DRM, I find it interesting the people who are complaining most loudly about it are the same people who will tell me to simply strip the Amazon DRM and quit grousing that Amazon refuses to sell ePub books. Considering how easy it is to strip B&N’s DRM or even to live with it, compared to Amazon’s DRM, perhaps you should stop grousing about B&N and grouse a bit more about your idols Bezos and Amazon.

    It should also be noted that the B&N DRM scheme is readily available for any bookstore to adopt, unlike Amazon’s scheme. That other ebookstores haven’t adopted B&N’s scheme is their business decision, but they could. More importantly, any Nook owner can shop at any ebookstore other than Apple or Amazon and read an ePub book bought at that store without doing anything but loading it on the Nook. Can’t say the same for Amazon’s Kindles.

  4. @ Richard Adin: “Amazon [is] the only significant ebookseller that requires you to have either one of its devices or some of its software to buy even a free and DRM-free ebook.”
    Not necessarily. Last month, I downloaded a free book from Amazon before putting it through Calibre then reading it on Cool Reader on my Android. I don’t get books from Amazon often because of these hoops to jump through, but it is possible to have neither Amazon approved devices or software and still be able to read books that were originally in the .mobi format.

  5. @ Nate Hoffelder: Richard Adin said, “I’m not sure what you are asking. I use Calibre.” Your response was, “Oh, you remove the DRM first. Gotcha.”

    Please don’t be naive, disingenuous, or whatever it is you’re trying to be. Everyone with any understanding of Calibre knows that it can’t convert DRM protected books because it is ebook conversion software that contains nothing to enable it to strip DRM. You know, it’s idiotic comments like yours that get perfectly legal products pulled from the internet because just a few thoughtless words create confusion in the minds of underworked politicians and ammo in the legal guns of big media creators who have even less to do.

  6. Will you all stop going on and on about DRM! Not a single one of you still gives a damn about authors. As an author myself I have really been contemplating strongly about forsaking ebooks altogether & offering my novels via print only. No more $2.99, no more 99 cents, no more DRM. I won’t have to hear about ANY of it anymore. And I’m tired of hearing about the Kindle, too. I don’t own one but I’m sick to death of hearing about that stupid device.

    ALL authors need to pull their hard earned work off of those dumb devices & leave you all hanging, looking stupid.

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