Earlier today The Bookseller published a piece where Roxana Robinson, the president of The Author’s Guild, shares hew view on key issues like the ongoing appeal of the Google Books case, authors writing for free, and Amazon destroying book culture as we know it.
Starting from least interesting to the most exciting, Robinson mis-characterized the ongoing Google Books case as:
“Non-fiction writers have seen their sales plummet because of this,” said Robinson. “It is a brilliant tool for scholars doing research, but it makes it unnecessary to buy a book or to find it in a library. Google is making money on this process and it is not paying authors any compensation at all. If, on the other hand, Google set up a software system in which every time you clicked on my book I would get a penny, that would solve the problem.”
Yes, because showing a tiny snippet of a book is enough to completely obviate any need to buy the book and will never lead to sales.
In related news, no one has ever bought a book after browsing a copy in a bookstore.
Do you know what also doesn’t lead to sales? Authors marketing themselves by writing guest blog posts. According to Robinson:
authors were not helping themselves by writing for free. “People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for Medium.com: valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.”
Robinson said The Authors Guild would not advise any author to stop writing for publications, but argued that an article by an author on a website may not lead to book sales. “I don’t know that anyone has figures on sales that result from this kind of writing (for free),” she said. “Everyone says, ‘get your name out there’, but does that really translate to connecting to the hard mental presence of the book? We want writers to recognise what is happening, to be aware of this trend, that writers themselves are contributing to the idea that their writing doesn’t deserve to be paid for.”
Yes, writing blog posts for free devalues writing.
At the same time, writing a whole book for free and submitting it to a publisher in the hopes of getting a tiny advance doesn’t in any way devalue writing, no sirree.
Frankly, I’m not surprised that she neglected to mention that second part, nor am I surprised that Robinson also took a couple swings at Amazon.
As with her last criticism of Amazon, Robinson has taken the publishers’ position that Amazon leads the movement of devaluing books:
“Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books,” she said. “And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing e-books at very, very low prices, people start feeling, ‘well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product’.”
Robinson said there was “definitely a difference between how authors and other people are viewed”, adding: “The idea that software writers be well compensated and that their work should be protected but book writers’ should not . . . that’s a real problem.”
Leaving aside the Amazon comments for the moment, her comparison between authors and software engineers is simply nonsensical.
It’s not just that she ignores the prevalence of free apps in iTunes, Google Play, and elsewhere, or that the free apps are often equivalent replacements for paid apps (this is less true with books).
What’s more important is her idea that software engineers should be paid but authors should not. I for one have never read anyone taking that position, so I am stumped to figure out where she heard it or why she is taking it seriously.
I suspect it is a straw man argument, but I don’t understand why she would want to invent it when she could have simply kept attacking Amazon.
Speaking of which, does anyone else wonder whether Amazon has pissed off the publishing industry again?
While that might seem a leap worthy of a conspiracy theorist, I would remind you that there is no obvious reason for Robinson to take a swing at Amazon like this.
Yes, The Authors Guild frequently echoes the major publishers’ hatred of Amazon, but the attack usually come timed to support some conflict between the publishers and Amazon.
As you might recall the last time that Robinson attacked Amazon she did so on behalf of Hachette. She spoke on Bloomberg TV in September 2014, and I don’t recall any comments since then.
Do you suppose there is something going on behind the scenes?