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