There are some days when I wonder how my head keeps from exploding because of the sheer idiocy that seems to be pervading so much of publishing. It’s not enough that we have publishers trying to kill mass market paperbacks because they make more money per sale for a hard cover book. Nor is it enough that they think they can convince readers that it costs as much to make an e-book as it does a hard copy edition of that same book, especially when the digital and print versions come out at the same time. I won’t even go into the archaic form of hand-wavium they use to justify either of these actions or how they report out sales and royalty figures to authors. Now we have Bob Kohn of RoyaltyShare filing yet another comic strip brief with the court in opposition to the already approved settlement between the Department of Justice and three of the publishers named in the price fixing lawsuit.
Yep, you read that right. A comic strip brief. His first brief, all five pages of what he called a “graphic novel” brief, was dismissed by the court. Kohn has filed yet another comic brief. I don’t know what gets to me more: the fact that Kohn is getting publicity from all of this — and that I’m adding to it this morning — or the fact that he has so little regard for our justice system that he thinks filing a comic as a pleading document is appropriate in any sort of lawsuit, much less one that has the potential of impacting an industry as much as this particular suit does.
Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if the only reason Kohn is continuing to take this tact is because he sees it as a free source of PR. Especially since it seems to be working…sigh. Mr. Kohn, grow up and quit acting like a self-indulgent child. If you have an argument you want to be taken seriously, then you need to take it seriously yourself. Presenting it as a comic isn’t the way.
Since my head is already threatening to explode because of the antics of Kohn with regard to the price fixing law suit, we might as well keep with that general topic. “Apple and/or the publisher defendants” filed a motion to subpoena Amazon in the class action lawsuit that’s been filed against Apple and the publishers. Amazon has, of course, filed a motion to quash the subpoena. While we don’t and can’t know all that was included in the filing of the subpoena, what it does show is that in this suit, as in the price fixing suit, the defendants are trying to play a game of smoke and mirrors by casting Amazon as the big evil that has to be protected against, even if it means breaking the law to do so.
Look, this tactic isn’t anything new, but that doesn’t make it right. We can’t allow businesses, or individuals, to go around breaking the law because there is the possibility that a competitor might, at some unknown point in the future, do something that might be bad or illegal. That sort of logic sends my mind spinning. It reminds me of the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report”. In the movie, “criminals” are apprehended before the crime based on information provided by precogs. Of course, it is assumed that the precogs are infallible and that what they’ve forecast can’t be changed. I don’t know about you, but I have a real problem with this sort of thinking, especially when you assume that something is going to happen NO MATTER WHAT THE INTERVENING CIRCUMSTANCES MIGHT BE.
My concern is that Apple and the non-settling publishers will manage to so confuse the issue that the underlying allegation against them in the DoJ suit will be lost. That issue is whether or not they colluded to fix the price of e-books. Contrary to what these same defendants and so many publishers, editors and, yes, even authors would have you believe, it isn’t about whether or not agency pricing is legal or not. It boils down to a simple of question of if the named parties communicated, either in person or via other means, a plan to set prices for e-books across the board in a way that did away with competitive pricing. It is the collusion that is the heart of the DoJ’s lawsuit, nothing more and nothing less.
Just as the named defendants want us to think the real enemy to publishing and to readers is Amazon, they don’t want us looking too closely at their own practices. If they keep us focused on the evil that Amazon might do at some point down the road, we don’t look at their own practices. Practices like using Bookscan to report sales figures because, gee, they can’t use a simple computer program to know how many books they printed, how many were sent to bookstores and how many were sold/returned. Instead, they rely on a sampling of sales from certain stores to report. Are the figures accurate? Hell no. Not when you can walk into a bookstore and find a book still on the shelves two or three years after it was printed — which means that book is selling and being reordered time and again — and yet the publisher says there aren’t enough sales to continue the series.
Authors, if you want to get angry over anything, get angry at your agents and publishers for allowing this farce to continue. Quit giving in to the knee-jerk reaction instilled by years of knowing the only way to have legitimacy as an author was to bend over and take whatever the legacy publishers did. They aren’t the only path now. There are any number of respected and successful small presses out there, all more than happy to treat you with more respect than you are getting now. The self-publishing road is no longer the kiss of death it once was. There are, in short, other players and you need to know them and understand what they can offer you, especially since legacy publisher are not doing the jobs they promise.
Ask yourself, when is the last time your publisher actually promoted your work (assuming you aren’t a best seller or literary darling). Ask yourself when you last got a royalty statement not only on time but with numbers that made sense based on what you are seeing in the local bookstores and hearing from your fans. Ask yourself why it is publishers think they are the most important part in the book creation process and not the person or persons actually responsible for writing the book.
It is time for authors to take control of their careers and realize there is no longer any reason to kowtow to legacy publishers. Amazon is not pure as the driven snow, but it most certainly isn’t the big evil Apple and others are trying to make it out to be. Nor should it — or any other business for that matter — be punished for something it might do at some point in the future. C’mon, guys, apply a little common sense not only to what is happening regarding the DoJ price fixing suit but to your careers as well. It’s past time to take care of yourselves and to remember that, without you, publishers wouldn’t exist. They should work for you and not the other way around.