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Posts tagged ‘Authors Guild’

Credibility redux

Kudos to Dave for yesterday’s great post. I’m going to piggyback on it a bit.

I’ll admit I was at a bit of a loss about what to write today. For those of you following my blog, you know that real life has been hitting me hard and heavy of late. That means the brain has been focused on dealing with those issues and not with writing or writing-related topics. I’m not complaining. It is something we all face from time to time, especially when we have aging parents. Fortunately for me, the issues are slowly abating and life is finally starting to get back to normal.

Anyway . . . .

On the one Hugo related note I’m going to mention today, I find it ironic to see one of the most vocal critics of all things puppies saying that if we put as much effort into writing “great fiction” as we do into maintaining our “permanent snit”, we would have already written the next Foundation trilogy. It is ironic because he is the one who daily posts at least one — maybe more. I don’t take time to look at his posts unless they pop up on my wall for some reason — entry critical of the Puppies. It also points out the same fundamental issue between those who want the Hugos to remain as they are and those who support Sad Puppies. It is the issue of what is “great fiction” and who gets to decide. For me, I’ll let the readers decide. In my mind, they vote every time they put their money down to buy a book. I can see their votes every time I cash a royalty check. So far, I like how they are voting.

And that leads me into the first real topic of the day. We have just finished the second month of under the new payment rules for the Kindle Unlimited program. We don’t know for sure what the pay per normalized page viewed will be for August but we can look at the number of those pages that were read for each of our books in the program. Looking at my figures, they stayed pretty constant August compared to July. Certain genres had more “borrows” under the KU program than sales while others had more sales than “borrows”. The credibility will come — or not — over the next few months as we see how consistent Amazon is with payment per page. I know there are a number of shorter fiction authors who have cried foul over the new rules but, as a long fiction writer, I applaud the change. This is, perhaps, the fairest way to pay authors for their borrows. The only change I can foresee them putting into place right now — and it would be reasonable in my opinion — is to top out payment per normalized page to the amount an author would have made if the person borrowing the book had actually bought it.

Another thought on credibility came after reading this piece by Stephen King. There is the credibility — or perhaps reliability — between an author and her audience. The reading public doesn’t want to wait years and years between books in a series and yet they also don’t want something put out that is nothing but dreck, put out only because a deadline had to be met. Some authors only have one book in them. Others stress and strain over each and every word. There are those who will criticize authors who have high daily word counts or who publish more than one book every year or three. But the truth is, there is no formula that is correct for all. Just as there is no one definition on what is “great fiction”. It is subjective and every author needs to write at his own pace. You do what the story needs and requires, nothing more and nothing less — or at least your should. If you do, you will maintain a lot of your credibility with your audience. (And yes, I know. I know. I have three series going right now that I need to get books out on. I’m working on it. I swear I am.)

Finally, here’s an example of where too little, too late does not lend credibility to an association. In this case, the Author’s Guild has a post saying it it time to do away with the non-compete clause in publishing contracts. Of course, if you read the article, it actually goes into how to make such clauses “fair”. I have long argued that such clauses are the enemy of the author. My issue with AG finally speaking about about them is that it has taken them so long to do so. Where were they when authors were stripped of contracts and asked to return royalties because the author — gasp — dared to self-publish something while waiting for their traditionally published work to come out? Where were they when these clauses were used to sit on work by mid-list authors, preventing them from publishing the work elsewhere, even though the contract publisher knew it wasn’t going to buy the book?

Author’s Guild has lost much of its credibility with me over the last few years because of its stance against Amazon and the way it has overlooked indie publishing. This is just another example of how it, like much of traditional publishing, is behind the times.


Attack of the killer kitten

There is some unwritten law somewhere that writers need cats. Or maybe it is just some cosmic joke played on me by the gods of writing. Whatever it is, I have been in possession of the Kitten from Hell (insert deep, echoing voice here) for the last few months. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s been in possession — or has possessed — me. All I know for sure is that he’s made life interesting, and not necessarily in a good way all the time, and has seriously cut into my sleep schedule.

The thing is, I’m thoroughly convinced the kitten is actually a dog in cat’s clothing. He races to the window — or the door — whenever someone comes near. He’s actually on “on point” a couple of times. He fetches in the true sense of the word. But worse, he has adopted our late Rocky’s habit of waking one of us — me — at 4 – 5 am every morning simply because someone drives by in a loud truck around then and it his now his job to protect us from the noise. To do so, he jumps into my window — usually scattering things off the top of my desk — and tries to tear through the blinds to get at the monster making all that noise outside.

The result is I feel like I did when my son was but a babe and still not sleeping through the night. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to wake me up and it has become close to a habit that every morning around 7 or 8, I go back to bed for a short nap. What I’d like to do, other than sleeping all night and not having to get up until a decent hour, is find a way to bottle all the kitten’s energy. I’d make a mint.

All this is leading somewhere, I swear. It’s just that my brain is tired and has decided not to use the mental GPS or even a crudely drawn map to get there.

The kitten, Bubba — short for Beelzebub — can be a loving kitten, usually when he’s asleep. There are times when he will climb up in my lap and demand loving. He purrs and headbutts and circles and kneads. And, just as he’s lulled you into thinking he really has changed and become a nice cat, he oh-so-nonchalantly reaches over and bits the living crap out of you. It’s just his way of letting you know that he really is the one in charge and all you’re good for is an occasional scritch and to open the cat food for him.

Ah! Now I remember where I was going with this.

It sort of reminds me of certain writers’ organizations that try to lull you into believing they have your best interests at heart all the while it appears those in control are simply stroking their own egos and pushing their own social or political or who-knows-what agenda.

The latest is, once again, the Authors Guild. On its homepage, AG bills itself as “the published writer’s advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts and free expression since 1912.” On its membership page, it quickly becomes clear that AG prefers traditionally published authors. You have to scroll down and down and down before you find anything that even hints at AG accepting self-published (or small press, presumably) authors.

Self-published authors who demonstrate that they meet writing income thresholds qualify for Authors Guild membership. The income requirement is intended to assure that the Guild stays focused on its core mission it’s pursued for the past 100 years: serving the interests of those pursuing writing as part of their livelihoods. Depending on your income, self-published authors may qualify as either regular (voting) or associate (non-voting) members. Both categories of membership received full Guild benefits. (Associate membership is a longstanding Guild category for writers with an offer to be traditionally published. It allows our legal department to help writers before they sign their first contract.) Traditionally published and self-published authors become regular members when they meet regular membership criteria.

If you aren’t already turned off by the very obvious lack of enthusiasm for indie authors, you can scroll down a bit more to find a drop-down box where you then tell them how much you’ve made over the last 18 months or so. Of course, this doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t say if you can prove you made $5,000 over the last 18 months that you will qualify for full membership in the Guild. No, all you can do is say if you’ve earned at least $5,000 or, if you haven’t met that threshold, if you’ve made at least $500 over that same period of time. The final option is that you haven’t earned $500 over the last 18 months. Oh, and then they want your payment information. Of course, you won’t be charged until your application has been approved.

Wow, makes you feel real welcome as an indie author, doesn’t it?

But let’s not condemn them — yet. Let’s look at their page on “Where we stand.” Before clicking on it, think about what you’d expect to find on that page. Me, I’d expect to see something about how they are working to help protect our copyright protections, not only with legal reforms but in contract negotiations with both publishers and agents. Or how about something dealing with doing all they can to help negotiate better contracts for writers that will give us a larger royalty percentage since technology and demand has changed. Really, does anyone believe the shipping and storage costs are the same now, in this day of POD, as it was when huge print runs were made and then the publishers sat with fingers crossed because they didn’t have pre-order numbers to judge off of? Or maybe something about continuing education or even — gasp — insurance for authors.

Click on the tab. Wow! The page has gone from “Where we stand” to “Advocacy”. Oh-oh. Could we have a bit of bait-and-switch here? Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s see what they have to say.

And here we come to the reason for this post. This “Where we stand” page is nothing more than a screed against Amazon. At least as far as I could stand to read it. Amazon is evil — let’s forget about the fact that it is the major retailer for most authors, both print and digital. Let’s also forget that they are standing against Amazon in order to “protect” those authors published by Hatchette. What about the other authors who are members of their organization? Funny, don’t they matter?

Where was AG when Amazon offered to set up a fund, first to be backed by both Hatchette and Amazon and then by Amazon itself, to help those Hatchette authors impacted by the contract stalemate? Where was AG when Hatchette refused both deals? Oh, I know. It was hiding behind the curtain, hands over its eyes, doing its best to ignore the fact that Amazon was trying to help its members.

Now AG has tried to convince the Department of Justice just how evil Amazon is. That first entry on its “Where we stand” page is its official statement about a meeting with DoJ officials that AG called in an attempt to take down Amazon. It is all very vague about what anti-trust violations Amazon may have committed. But Amazon is evil, you know.

The Authors Guild’s mission, since its founding in 1912, has been to support working writers.

That’s a worthy mission — as long as that struggling writer happens to meet their criterion. Of course, they’ll welcome you with open arms if you are traditionally published. That welcome might be a bit more grudging if you are self-published.

The Guild has consistently opposed Amazon’s recent and ruthless tactics of directly targeting Hachette authors, which have made these authors into helpless victims in a business dispute between two big corporations. This action has caused thousands of writers to see a significant drop in their royalty checks. The Authors Guild challenges this threat to the literary ecosystem, one that jeopardizes the individual livelihoods of authors.

Oookay. “Directly targeting Hachette authors.” Well, not really. The target is Hachette. The authors are involved because they create the product Hachette sells via Amazon.  I know, I know, they are upset about the lack of pre-order buttons. Well, boo-hoo. Pull up your big boy pants and think about it from a contractual point of view for a moment. If there is no contract between Amazon and Hachette, Amazon faces the possibility that it won’t be able to fulfill those pre-orders when the books are finally released by the publisher. Why in the world should Amazon be held to accepting pre-orders for products it might not have? I guess AG doesn’t care about the customer relations nightmare it would be for Amazon to have to tell its customers “Sorry, we know you pre-ordered the book but we can’t send it to you. Go somewhere else.”

The rest of that paragraph has me asking a very simple question: why does AG assume that Amazon is the bad guy here and that there aren’t parts of the Hachette demands that are just as evil as what Amazon is asking? Oh, I know. Amazon is evil. Hachette, as a traditional publisher, is the writer’s friend. Excuse me while I go wash my mouth out.

The Guild started its own initiative to invite governmental scrutiny of Amazon’s outsize market share and anticompetitive practices in the publishing industry. Last summer the Guild prepared a White Paper on Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct, circulating it to the United States Department of Justice and other government entities. As a result of our request for the initiation of an investigation of Amazon, we hosted a meeting with the DOJ in our offices on August 1 so that a group of authors could make their case directly to the government. . . .

So, Amazon is evil because it managed to build a thriving business. Oh, wait, it killed bookstores. Or did it? There is a re-emergence of locally owned bookstores across the country. It’s the big box stores that are in trouble, but we can’t ding them or demand they look at their own business practices because, you know. Amazon evil.

The Guild has been working closely with the grassroots group Authors United—founded by Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston—which will be making another request to the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for potential antitrust violations.

Grassroots? Huh? I think their definition of the word differs from mine. If it is a grassroots organization, I wouldn’t expect it to be founded by an AG council member. Oh, look, that same “grassroots organization” will be making the same sort of request of the DoJ as AG did. Hmm, wonder just how similar those requests will read? Inquiring minds want to know.

Our mission is to protect and support working writers.

So you keep saying.

When a retailer, which sells close to half the books in the country, deliberately suppresses the works of certain authors, those authors are harmed, and we speak out.

Funny, I thought Amazon was simply not allowing pre-orders of books from Hachette and, yes, has been alleged to be slow in stocking those books. Odd, though, there’s been no real proof of that latter accusation. My question here is if Hachette has been slow in getting the books to Amazon. And, again, Amazon is dealing with the publisher, not the authors. This isn’t the first time a bookseller has been in contract dispute with a publisher and, whether AG wants to admit it or not, it has always been the authors who have been hit because they are the ones who supply the product the publishers sell. It ain’t personal, folks. It’s business and you need to be asking the hard questions of the publishers as well as of the seller.

We will continue to oppose any business tactics, from publishers or retailers, that interfere with working writers’ ability to present their products in a fair marketplace and to flourish within their chosen field. Our goal is to ensure that the markets for books and ideas remain both vigorous and free.

Odd this. I would have thought that the goal of AG was to get the best working conditions, ie pay and contract provisions, for its members.

Anyway, that’s my sleep-deprived rant for the day. Now I’m off to find more coffee and to get back to work. With luck, Duty from Ashes will be available for pre-order from Amazon later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.


More Random Penguin and other thoughts

It’s election day in the U.S., so thoughts are scattered, to say the least. So, in the closest I’ll get to politics on this blog, I’ll simply urge those of you who haven’t voted yet to do so. And so ends the political bent of today’s post. Now onto the continuing saga of Random Penguin and other publishing news.

Let’s start with the “other” news first. Publishers Weekly has announced that e-books took a 22% share of the market during the second quarter of this year. This is up “only” 1% from the first quarter of the year but represents an increase of 14% over the same time last year. To put this into perspective, hard covers and trade paperbacks dropped 2% and mass market paperbacks dropped 3% (assuming I’m reading the article right).

Now, the naysayers will say that this means e-books are reaching their maximum sales rate. I disagree for a number of reasons. The first is that the figures come from Bowker and there is no explanation for how they came up with their figures. If they are using the same sampling method, or one similar to, that used by Bookscan, then the figures are merely an estimation of sales and not actual numbers.

The second, and more important, reason I don’t think we are seeing the point where e-book sales go flat or start decreasing is because there is an artificial ceiling in place right now. That artificial ceiling is DRM. It prevents most people from buying their e-books from a variety of major stores. Most folks think that if they have a Nook, they can only buy from Barnes & Noble. It’s the same with the Kindle or the Sony Reader, etc.

Going hand-in-hand with this is agency model pricing. Publishers following this model are pricing e-books higher than they are mmpb versions, causing people to delay buying a number of e-book titles they would otherwise. The problem with this is that it doesn’t lead to delayed sales. It leads to no sales because folks forget about going back to buy the mmpb when it comes out. This is not a situation of time making the heart grow fonder. No, it makes the brain forget.

The interesting thing pointed out by the article is that while BN physical store sales seem to have fallen, independent bookstores are holding firm. Yes, they represent only a small part of the market, but they are doing something right. Their numbers remained where they were. This is a situation where no growth is a good thing. As long as they hold steady, they can build on what they are doing right and correct what they aren’t doing right. They aren’t locked into a corporate business plan that doesn’t consider local needs or wants. They can, in short, serve the needs of their customers and build a strong customer base.

And now we have the latest on the Random Penguin merger. Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild, has weighed in on the merger, calling it “an unsettling announcement”.

His first concern is that the announcement understated just how much of the U.S. market the newly merged company would control. He says the 25% figure cited by Random House is more likely 3t%, with the share in certain markets being even higher. Because of this, he states that the proposed merger “merits close scrutiny” from the antitrust folks at the Department of Justice and FTC. Pardon me if I find it slightly ironic that he is now asking for DoJ to look at this possible merger for antitrust violations and yet he condemned the DoJ for looking into the alleged collusion between Apple and the five publishers for price fixing.

I will give it to Turow for cutting to the chase when it comes to the reasons behind the merger. He buys the cost-cutting arguments put forth in the announcement about as much as I do, especially if they don’t close any lines or conduct major and massive layoffs. As Turow says, “those potential efficiencies for such large publishers are probably minor.  Economies of scale only go so far.” He’s right. Just as he’s right to say that this proposed merger is more about trying to cope with the changing “ongoing restructuring of the book industry”.

Turow goes on to note that the new mega-publisher will have greater negotiating power with retail outlets. His concern is that it will come at a great cost to the literary market and, as a result, to readers. “There are already far too few publishers willing to invest in nonfiction authors, who may require years to research and write histories, biographies, and other works, and in novelists, who may need the help of a substantial publisher to effectively market their books to readers.” He’s right there. It is a problem we already see and one which, I fear, will be compounded by this merger.

But my concern goes even further. As noted in an earlier post, I doubt the new company will keep all 250 or so imprints alive. I doubt we will see more authors and new titles being offered. What I do see are more poor imitations of what they see as their best sellers and the newest, bestest fad. This is bad news for readers and for authors. It is yet another reason why I think we will see more authors going indie or going with small presses, no longer the bane of the industry.

Bigger isn’t always better and, I’m afraid, Random Penguin will prove that adage. I hope I’m wrong, but my gut says I’m not.

And now we wait

The Department of Justice has published the 868 comments in response to the proposed settlement with three of the five publishers named in the price fixing suit it filed earlier against the original Big Five publishers and Apple. I’m not surprised to find that the vast majority of responses were opposing the proposed settlement. After all, the average reader isn’t even aware of the lawsuit. Beyond that, most authors who will be impacted by the outcome of this and who are still under contract with the named publishers aren’t going to say anything for fear of having their contracts dropped by the publishers. To publicly come out and say your employer — and, yes, that’s exactly what publishers are to writers under the current set up — is full of crap is to commit what some (publishers and agents) might see as professional suicide.

What does surprise me, and pleasantly so, is that the DoJ is sticking to its guns. Without going into politics too much, this is an election year and, well, you get what I’m saying. I won’t say more because this isn’t a political blog and I’m not going to make it one.

Without rehashing — too much — what I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the agency model. However, I also admit that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. My issues come with how the agency model was put in place by the original Big 5 and Apple. Long before the DoJ filed its lawsuit, rumors had abounded about how Steve Jobs had required the publishers adopt the agency model if they wanted to be included in the new iBookstore. (Remember, all this came about at the same time the iPad hit the market). It was just all too coincidental to my mind. Five major publishers all demanding the same pricing model at the same time? And at a time when Amazon’s newest and potentially biggest competitor in the e-book market, comes online? Hmmmm.

But I had another issue with the agency pricing model as well. Publishing was already in trouble. Book sales had been declining for awhile. The economy wasn’t as strong as it could be and that meant there was less money available for people to spend on “extras”. So, in response to this, these publishers demanded a pricing model that would put less money in their pockets? A struggling industry shouldn’t be finding ways to cut their revenue. It should find ways to maximize revenue. But then, that’s just me. I like making money.

My biggest issue with agency pricing was that it was a knee-jerk reaction by the publishers not only to Steve Jobs’ demand for it (assuming he actually made that demand) but also to their fear of Amazon. Instead of realizing that the decline of brick and mortar bookstores began long before Amazon even existed, they saw Amazon as the big evil. They forgot about how the big box stores moved into the market in the 1980s and 1990s and drove most of the smaller, locally owned bookstores out of business. They forgot how these same big box stores then used their clout to demand changes in their purchasing contracts with the publishers, redoing things like return policies, etc. They didn’t look at how these same big box stores — and the publishers themselves — failed to embrace the e-book market from the beginning. In short, they let the market get away from them and now, panicked, are trying to stop the flood.

If you read the responses to the DoJ’s proposed settlement, you’ll find a number of them talking about how there might have been collusion and, okay, that’s not nice, but it was necessary. Something has to be done to stop Amazon before it monopolizes the e-book market. Amazon was undercutting the competition. It was killing the e-book industry and now, with agency pricing, we have competition.

Sorry, what we have isn’t competition. Competition would be giving us a market where we can shop around for the best price for our dollar. Under agency pricing publishers set the price for their titles and, guess what, it is the same price everywhere. Where is the competition?

Another argument put forth by those opposed to the proposed settlement is that the settlement will mean an increase in e-book prices. They postulate that the removal of agency pricing will give Amazon a monopoly and that Amazon will then implement its evil plan to raise prices.

The problem with these arguments, and all arguments saying Amazon might do something at some unspecified point in the future, is that it is speculation. There is no proof to support these arguments. The United States is based on laws and, fortunately, we don’t tend to punish people or businesses based on something they might do at some unspecified point in the future.

Another problem is that these arguments ignore the fact that Amazon is not by any means a monopoly yet. There are a number of different e-book outlets available to the public. It isn’t Amazon’s problem that Barnes & Noble and other booksellers didn’t climb onto the bandwagon as early as they could have when it comes to e-books and e0-book readers. I understand the fear these folks have. They are playing catch up now and grasping at straws to do so. However, instead of paying millions of dollars in legal fees to fight Amazon, they should be investing these dollars in finding ways to reach out to the public and win them over to their own e-book platform or e-book reader hardware.

Publishers Weekly has the right of it here: Observing that “there is no mistaking the fear that many of the commenters have of the prospect of competing with Amazon on price,” the DoJ noted that low prices and fierce rivalries are among the core ambitions of free markets and that contrary to many commenters views, “the goal of antitrust law is to use rivalry to keep prices low for consumers’ benefit. Employing antitrust law to drive prices up would turn the Sherman Act on its head.”

The consumers’ benefit. That is what the publishers and those opposed to the DoJ settlement have forgotten. Oh, they make lip service to it, but if you really look at what they are saying, they are worried about the publishers and big box stores. They want things to continue as they have for years. The problem is that things have been broken for years and no one was doing anything about it. No one in the industry wanted to change business models because this one worked — once. Now, instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — and that just isn’t going to happen — they should be looking to embrace this new tech and the new demands of it instead of playing Chicken Little.

From The Bookseller: Responding to Barnes & Noble’s comments, the DoJ asserted that Barnes & Noble was “worried that it will make less money after the conspiracy than it collected while the conspiracy was ongoing” and that that was not a matter for the court to consider. Many of the benefits B&N attributes to collusive pricing could be achieved in other ways, such as lowering costs, the DoJ said.

Like I said, change the business model and cut the fat from the budget and see what happens. But no, they’d rather break the law themselves in order to hamstring Amazon and not worry about anyone else (the consumer) who might be harmed in the process.

But I think the most ludicrous comment against the proposed settlement comes from the Authors Guild. Basically, it argues that price fixing should be allowed in publishing because of the “cultural role books play in society.” WTF?!?!?!

It is important to remember that the basis of the DoJ’s suit isn’t that agency model pricing is wrong. It is that colluding to force agency model pricing onto the market is. It is also important to remember that breaking the law because you are scared of what might happen sometime in the future isn’t justified, not in a case like this. Finally, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was written to protect the consumer, not to protect businesses from poor business practices.

And now we wait to see what the court says. While we do, you can read the DoJ’s response to the comments here.



Saturday Links and Open Floor

Here are some links that may be of interest.

Kris Rusch has a great post on “Scarcity and Abundance” and how publishers are still trying to operate under the scarcity model, doing things like adding non-compete clauses into authors’ contracts. This is a must read, as are all her posts.

Dean Wesley Smith has a few words to say on the Scott Turow Authors Guild letter. (If you haven’t seen the letter, I discussed it here last weekend.) Dean doesn’t mince words about his feelings for Turow regarding this issue. He also links to Joe Konrath’s post about the Turow letter and to Turow’s response. I recommend you read them all. Then decide for yourself just who is in the wrong.

If that isn’t enough to think about and discuss, we’re throwing the floor open–no, don’t go too near the center or you’ll find yourself falling into the dungeon–to your questions, comments and future post suggestions.

The floor is now yours.