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Authors Guild Condemns DOJ Price-Fixing Settlement

Scott Turow, Lackey in Chief of the Authors Guild, has released a statement condemning the anti-trust settlement announced yesterday.

The complete statement is after the break. Following that is an explanation of why I don’t like Mr. Turow.

The proposed settlement is a shocking trip through the looking-glass.  By allowing Amazon to resume selling most titles at a loss, the Department of Justice will basically prevent traditional bookstores from trying to enter the e-book market, at the same time it drives trade out of those stores and into the proprietary world of the Kindle.  The settlement provides a gigantic obstacle to Amazon’s competitors in the e-book business by allowing Amazon to function without making a profit, something that leaves that market forbidding to anyone else who might think of entering, and a bad business for those already there.

Today’s low Kindle book prices will last only as long as it takes Amazon to re-establish its monopoly.  It is hard to believe that the Justice Department has somehow persuaded itself that this solution fosters competition or is good for readers in the long run.

I have spoken derisively of Mr. Turow before, and that is because I feel he serves the interest of the legacy publishers. I do not believe that he acts in the interest of his constituency, authors.

If he did then he would be forced to acknowledge the good things Amazon has done for authors. Those authors might not be members of his organization but they are authors. You’d think he would be happy about that.

But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based on his recent actions. For example, the entirety of his position on the anti-trust issue has been one which supported the accused legacy publishers. His position has never taken in to account what Amazon has done to enable a vast number of authors to publish for the first time. I feel that at a minimum he should have taken a nuanced position and not embraced one side.

Am I wrong?

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fjtorres April 12, 2012 um 9:15 pm

No, you are not wrong.
Lackey in Chief? Not bad.
Though I’d go with Judas Goat.
More accurate.

Ravi April 12, 2012 um 9:19 pm

I’d say that the Authors Guild doesn’t represent authors, it represents authors who use / depend on legacy publishers. Given that, he’s serving his constituency well.

Mike Cane April 13, 2012 um 9:52 pm

>>>I’d say that the Authors Guild doesn’t represent authors

YOU would say. Not the AG, which attempted to speak for ALL writers — past (as in dead), present (even not AG members), and future (as in unborn) — in the suit against Google Book Search!

Virduk April 12, 2012 um 11:28 pm

Well I’d like to believe there are options beyond:

1. Prices fixed with no competition
2. Completely open pricing where Amazon continue its predatory ways and runs everyone out of business.

Ralph Hummel April 13, 2012 um 4:56 am

Here are my 2 cents worth of thought on the whole topic:

A whole industry is struggling to accept and adapt to a new way of content distribution, established authors being part of just that industry. Most authors that have been lucky enough to have been published over the last decades now all of a sudden find themselves faced with the possibility that their share in the market, and therefore their income, is threatened by authors that have chosen not to trust their work to established intermediaries, a.k.a the publishing companies, but deal with distribution and marketing themselves. Hence Mr. Turow’s stance. It’s self-preservation more than anything else that is the driving factor behind his stance.
Being an aspiring author myself (in my native language german, so far unpublished of course) I am more than tempted to go down the route of self-publishing with e-media in it’s various flavors. Amazon being one option. The thing that makes me hesitant to do so is this: self-publishing authors risk burning themselves by throwing sub-standard work on the market and overloading the consumer with texts that in other circumstances would not have made it to publishing. As somebody making his money in internet marketing I know that one bad comment about any given product needs 25 good ones to make it up again.
Add to that the work that needs doing to marekt, stylie and electronically publish, the aspiring author either needs to acquire all these skills to provide a good product to the consumer, or find somebody to assist them. And that’s exactly where the publishing companies still might play a very important role in the future: Editing and finding authors whose work is good enough to be supported and take the burden of publishing of the author so he or she can concentrate on writing and maybe take those works also into the traditional print market. I see their talent scouts buying and reading works of self-publishers and recruiting the good ones in the future, rather than turning down writers that submit their manuskripts to them. Interesting reversal of roles, don’t you think? Of course, this will only happen, if publishers finally accept, that the world is changing and that they cannot be the judge of what gets published and what does not. Because if they won’t deal with a good author, somebody else will.

Richard Adin April 13, 2012 um 7:35 am

Nate, it is OK to disagree with Turow, but neither you nor anyone else has yet established that once Amazon gains its near monopoly status in ebooks that it won’t turn on authors just as it has turned on publishers and distributors. You and others keep saying that Amazon will continue to be good to consumers and authors, yet we regularly read about Amazon’s take-it-or-leave-it demands on publishers and distributors. History demosntrates that abuse spreads and is not self-limiting. I don’t know for certain that Amazon will turn on authors, but history suggests it will and I don’t see that it is smart to give it the opportunity to do so.

I happen to think that Turow is right. Amazon burned the publishers in the beginning, then the smaller distributors, and then the publishers some more, and then not satisfied appears to be trying to burn them again. I guess if you love Walmart and its tactics, you llove Amazon and its emulation of those tactics.

Nate Hoffelder April 13, 2012 um 10:36 am

Actually, I don’t have to justify Amazon’s behavior in a hypothetical future. All I have to do is show the difference now. Amazon might abuse authors, but the legacy publishers would exclude them from being published at all. That makes Amazon the lesser of the 2 evils, IMO.

burger flipper April 13, 2012 um 11:53 am

Well that is definitely a less nuanced view than Turrow’s.

Tyler April 14, 2012 um 1:58 am

Problem is that the Big Six should be selling directly to the consumers and stop thinking of the online bookstores as real bookstores! The could have had 100% of the sale instead of 70%. They could have set the price to whatever they wanted.

Mike Cane April 13, 2012 um 9:54 pm

>>>that once Amazon gains its near monopoly status in ebooks

Because, you know, once a company exists at the top, it always exists at the top. Like, you know, Sony. Or Enron. Puhleeze.

Tyler April 14, 2012 um 2:00 am

It’s how long they stay at the top. 20 years ? 50 years?

Bryan April 15, 2012 um 3:12 pm

How would they turn on its authors, I wonder? By offering low royalty rates? By refusing to even take a look at a manuscript from an unpublished author or one with poor sales on their last books? By doing all the stuff legacy publishers are doing right now?

Unless I missed a big part of this, the whole thing with Amazon bullying around and setting a take it or leave it approach went like this: The publishers tried to force Amazon to sell their books at a price they set. Amazon said no thanks – we want to sell them at our price. We just won’t sell them if we’re being forced to do so for double what we want to sell them at. And by the way, the publishers were still going to get their normal price. AMAZON was going to take a loss, not the authors or the publishers. So how did Amazon burn THEM?

And you’re likening Wal-Mart to Amazon, but as trendy as it is to hate Wal-Mart they’re still offering really low prices to their consumers and jobs to people who need them. May not be as glamorous as working at a Fortune 500 company or shopping at Gap, but it’s what they’ve done for years and now that they’ve been on top for decades, they haven’t suddenly changed their model and spat on everyone’s faces. They still provide jobs at a time when they’re needed, pay well above minimum wage in nearly every instance, and still offer an affordable place to shop. It’s what they’ve been doing – why the heck would they suddenly change that?

Amazon’s gonna take over the publishing world and then suddenly change the very model that makes them successful and ruin the buying/publishing abilities of customers and authors everywhere?

That’s some nice fearmongering, but not a very sound business strategy and not bloody likely.

DavidW April 13, 2012 um 7:55 am

Exactly, and this is what the DOJ settlement proposes. It’s a win for well everyone. The publishers can keep the agency model, but distributors are allowed discounts as long as overall they turn a profit. Customers benefit from the discounts. Everyone wins.

Len Feldman April 13, 2012 um 11:12 am

Publicly, the Authors Guild positions itself as representing all authors, but when you dig into the details, it only represents a small (and shrinking) subsection of authors. The Guild explicitly prohibits self-published authors and authors who work with publishers that don’t pay advances from becoming members. It also limits membership to authors published by "general" publishers. So, Turow and the Guild are heavily invested in protecting the interests of the Big 6 publishers.

fjtorres April 13, 2012 um 1:32 pm

It’s a country club.
Run by a bunch of oldtimers who made their money the old-fashioned way and don’t want to mingle with the rabble making money any other way. Lord knows, they might pick up something contagious, like *new* ideas.
Stockholm syndrome, really.

Peter April 13, 2012 um 1:27 pm

"Following that is an explanation of why I don’t like Mr. Turow."
-That cracked me up.

As far as the actual criticism:

On the front page of the authors guild website:
"The Authors Guild has been the PUBLISHED writer’s advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts, and free expression since 1912." Emphasis mine.

And just to be clear, membership eligibility for the author’s guild includes being published:
"Book authors must be published by an established American publisher. "

So, you’re absolutely right that Turow doesn’t represent self-published authors. But he also isn’t supposed to.

Len Feldman April 13, 2012 um 2:45 pm

Peter, why not state ALL the eligibility requirements for joining the Authors Guild? You’ll find them . Here’s a quote:

"Book authors must be published by an established American publisher. While decisions on membership eligibility are made on a case-by-case basis, generally book contracts are expected to include a royalty clause and a significant advance, and must allow the author to retain copyright. Exceptions to these requirements are sometimes made in the case of small literary presses of national reputation. Self-published works and works published by subsidy presses do not qualify an author for membership. Works published by foreign publishers are not accepted as a basis for membership."

As I read it, an author could write for a publisher that most people would consider to be "established" and still not qualify. And, "established" is far from a term of art. Does "established" mean one year old? Ten years old? 100 years old? Does it refer to revenues? How about the size of its backlist? Or, perhaps, the number of titles it currently has on the New York Times Bestseller list? Can you even get two people to even agree as to what "established" means?

And, what if a publisher isn’t a "small literary press of national reputation." What if it’s a small professional press? A small technical press? Why do authors of literary works get a pass and others don’t?

My point stands–the Guild discriminates against large classes of authors, yet positions itself as representing the interests of all authors, as it did in the ill-fated Google Books case.

Mike Cane April 13, 2012 um 9:56 pm


My letter of resignation from the Authors Guild

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