And the winner of the “What the bleep are they thinking?” award is…

After struggling over the last week or so to find something to write about for this blog, today finds me in the position of trying to pare down topics into something manageable. So, with coffee mug in hand, here I go. . . .

First up: for those who have been waiting for dedicated e-readers and tablets to come down in price, hie thee over to Barnes & Noble. The powers that be there have lowered the prices for the Nook tablet and Nook Color models of their e-readers. Over the weekend, Amazon had flash deals on the Kindle DX and many Kindle-related products. Now, this could all be in response to the release of the Google Nexus and lowering prices of other tablets currently on the market. However, there is plenty of speculation that this is also the prelude to an announcement by Amazon of a new tablet. Only time will tell which of the speculations is right. My guess is that they all are.

Thomas Nelson has recalled all copies of The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. The reason for the recall is simple: after being released in April, Thomas Nelson has received a number of complaints about the book, citing historical inaccuracies. Or, as Thomas Nelson said, “there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.”

I’ve blogged in the past about how publishers have had to recall books because of plagiarism, etc. What got me about this particular book and the comments from Thomas Nelson concerning the recall is this one statement: “Although we do carefully edit every book we publish, Thomas Nelson relies on the expertise of our authors concerning their subjects . . .It is extremely rare that the company would have to withdraw a book from the market based on concerns about its content.”

Look, I’m not asking publishers to be historians and scientists or economists, etc. But there should be some fact-checking done by publishers if they are going into the non-fiction world. There has to be. Simply relying on the author can and, as Thomas Nelson discovered, sometimes will lead to trouble. Let’s face it, T-N dropped the ball here and they have taken a financial hit because of it. They are out the cost of the production and shipping of the book. They are out any placement monies they may have paid brick and mortar stores for good placement of the book within the stores. Even though they have cancelled the contract with the book’s author and reverted rights to him, it is possible they are out at least the advance money (I don’t know about this because the contractual terms related to this are confidential). Then there is the bad press they will get because of the recall, not only with the buying public but also with the booksellers who were stocking the book. All of which could have possibly been prevented if the publisher had simply had someone familiar with the topic fact-check the book before it was published.

For those of you who, like me, have been following the conflict between libraries and certain publishers regarding e-books, the ALA (American Library Association) has released “a brief informational report on the e-book market”. You can find the full report here. According to the report, there are three essential factors that libraries should look for in any agreement on e-book lending:

  • Inclusion of all titles: All e-book titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries.
  • Enduring rights: Libraries should have the option to effectively own the e-books they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.
  • Integration: Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance the discovery of e-books.

Unfortunately, the chasm between libraries and many of the major publishers is still vast and everyone is being hurt by it: readers, libraries, authors and publishers. What publishers didn’t think about when they took their stance against library lending of e-books is that librarians will and do explain to their patrons why that e-book they want to borrow isn’t on the shelf. They didn’t think about the patrons — hint, publishers, these patrons are readers and readers are your customers. They buy books even if they also borrow them from the library — writing their favorite authors whose e-books they can’t find in the library and letting them know how unhappy they are. These authors are now taking that into consideration when they look at those oh-so-one-sided contracts these same publishers are sending them. In other words, publishers may soon learn the meaning of the word “backlash”, especially as more and more small presses and indie authors find ways to get their e-books into library catalogs.

On the DoJ’s suit against Apple and the five publishers for price fixing, we’re still waiting to see if the court will accept the proposed settlement or not. In the meantime, amicus curia (friend of court) briefs have been accepted from Barnes & Noble and American Booksellers Association. Both argue that the proposed settlement would hurt their business by forcing the publishers to give up the agency pricing model for a period of several years. So, now we wait to see what the court finally rules with regard to the proposed settlement.

In the shadow of this, Bowker has released a report that purportedly shows that e-book prices fell in 2011. Some have pointed to this as proof that the agency model won’t cause e-book prices to increase. The problem with this is multi-fold. First, the report is based on a survey of “70,000 Americans who bought books in all formats in 2011”. Second, to get a copy of the report, you have to pay $799. Third, I’ve not found anything that shows if the report took into account the number of e-books that were published either directly by the author or by small presses — and let’s face it, e-books from those sources tend to not only be less expensive than those from the major publishers but much less expensive. I could go on, but I’m sure you see my problem. Using this report to support agency pricing is flawed at best. At least it is in my opinion.

Finally, winning the “what in the bleep were you thinking” award is Hatchette. Specifically, there’s a letter from Hatchette UK’s CEO, a letter that Cory Doctorow calls “an astonishing combination of chutzpah and denialism”, that has been leaked. Basically, Hatchette UK is telling their authors that they, the authors, must make sure that their e-books are DRM-protected by all publishers. In other words, if you sell a book to Hatchette UK and then sell the US rights or Asian rights, etc., to someone else, it is up to you, dear author, to make sure the other publisher adds DRM in order to “protect” Hatchette UK’s investment.


Doctorow has the right of it when he says: It’s hard to say what’s more shocking to me: the temerity of Hachette to attempt to dictate terms to its rivals on the use of anti-customer technology, or the evidence-free insistence that DRM has some nexus with improving the commercial fortunes of writers and their publishers. Let’s just say that Hachette has balls the size of Mars if it thinks it can dictate what other publishers do with titles in territories where it has no rights.

Hatchette’s letter notes that “improvements in retailer systems and e-book platforms has led to more flexible DRM which grants the consumer greater flexibility in their use of purchased files, such as the ability to share across multiple devices.” As Doctorow accurately points out, this oh so conveniently fails to point out that you can’t do it across multiple platforms. It also doesn’t note that the major publishers still limit, often unreasonably so, the number of devices you can have a title on at the same time and, btw, they also limit whether or not you can lend a title. So that “sharing” isn’t really. It is simply letting you read the e-book you legally purchased on different devices, of the same platform, that you own. Gee, nice of them, isn’t it?

Will publishers ever learn that all they are doing is pissing off their readers and their authors, without whom they can’t survive? Sigh. As Doctorow says, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

4 thoughts on “And the winner of the “What the bleep are they thinking?” award is…

  1. Y’a know, for some reason, this reminded me of the generations of computer vendors that I’ve been through. I mean, when I started, Big Blue (IBM) ruled the roost. “You can’t go wrong buying Big Blue.” Then DEC broke that stranglehold. Then Sun became the way to go. And then Microsoft. And then… I guess I’m used to the idea that the big boys are going to be overturned by some garage shop that provides customers with what they want. Doesn’t seem unlikely to me at all that the Publishers are going to go the same way as other dinosaurs. And watch for the rise of the mammals — they’re sneaky, but prolific and wide-spread.

    1. Sounds about right to me – those Indy mammals are already breeding like crazy.

      All it takes is one thing to disrupt the ability to control what happens, and the dinosaurs fall, always.

  2. And I am so glad now, that I went indy, with my first HF … gads, was that more than five years ago? I guess time flies when you are having fun. I had a fund drive among readers of my blog – that’s how I got it out there, or the first edition of that sweet little book, which has been chugging along steadily ever since.
    I joined up with some other writers of historical fiction, who had published through POD, or by tiny local presses, and we could see even then that the towers of the mighty fortress of the traditional publishing industry were starting to crumble.
    This year I am going to bring out one of my books in German translation … I worked a deal with a free-lance translaterl; he translate for a cut of the eventual sales, LSI has overseas printing plants, and Amazon markets in Europe. It’s going to be interesting, these next five years.

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