Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So the Real Authors Guild is... Amazon?!

Joe sez: This is from Barry Eisler's blog. My comments to follow.
Barry sez: In case you missed it, today Amazon issued an update on its stalled negotiations with Hachette.  It’s a great read:  short, clear, and devastating to the meme that Hachette is in any way the good guy in this fight.  But if you want just the executive summary, it’s this:
Amazon wants most ebooks to be priced at below ten dollars; Hachette wants ebooks to be priced higher.

So far, so simple.  But what’s critical to understand is that lower ebook prices create more revenue — a lower price for the customer, and more income for the retailer, publisher, and author.  In other words, a win for everyone:
We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.
The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%.
This is what Hachette opposes.  This is what the “Authors Guild” and “Authors United” are fighting to prevent.  More money for authors.  And not just that:
This is good for all the parties involved:
* The customer is paying 33% less.
* The author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that's 74% larger. And that 74% increase in copies sold makes it much more likely that the title will make it onto the national bestseller lists. (Any author who's trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.)
* Likewise, the higher total revenue generated at $9.99 is also good for the publisher and the retailer. At $9.99, even though the customer is paying less, the total pie is bigger and there is more to share amongst the parties.
For anyone who follows Joe Konrath’s blog, none of this is news — Joe wrote a post over two years ago laying out why The Agency Model Sucks.  Legacy publishers know — they have long known — that the sweet-spot price for most ebooks (the point at which per-unit price multiplied by volume maximizes revenues) is lower than what they insist on charging.
So why do legacy publishers insist on high prices for ebooks?
As I started pointing out about three years ago, “The current business imperative of legacy publishing is to preserve the position of paper and retard the growth of digital.”  Why?  Because although the legacy industry offers various value-added services (at least in theory), the only critical service they’ve ever offered — the only one an author couldn’t get any other way — has always been paper distribution. Paper distribution is the foundation on which the legacy industry built its agglomerated business model.  That is:  “You want distribution?  Then you’ll have to take all the services you could have outsourced for a flat fee elsewhere (editing, jacket design, etc) along with it, and you’ll have to pay 85% of earnings for the agglomerated package.”
But in a digital world, authors don’t need distribution services from publishers.  In digital, individual authors have exactly the same distribution reach as any corporate publishing partner, and for the same flat rate of 30%.  Digital is changing the role of publishers from something authors needed to something authors might, for reasons separate from distribution, merely want.
Having the nature of your business go from “I’m a business necessity and the only game in town” to “If I can prove my value, authors might still want me” represents a cataclysmic change for legacy players.  Remove the criticality of distribution from the equation, and the entire nature of the publishing business model dramatically changes, with services that once upon a time could only be had as part of a mandated and expensive prix fixe meal now available as low-price a la carte items authors can order from the menu however and from whomever they like.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it is.  Forcing someone to buy an unessential item as the price of being able to buy the essential one is called tying and it is frequently illegal, especially in the context of intellectual property.  Or, for another example of tying, recall the pre-digital-distribution era way the music industry allowed you to buy the one song you wanted:  by forcing you to buy the entire CD along with it.  There are many other examples.  What they all have in common is that in whatever context it develops, tying can only exist in the presence of disproportionate market power.
There’s much more to be said on the origins and nature of the legacy publishing business model; if you’re interested, here are some thoughts I offered in a Pike’s Peak Writers Conference keynote a little over a year ago and in a follow-up piece I wrote for The Guardian.  And here’s some terrific analysis from Porter Anderson at Writing on the Ether.
But even if you don’t want to dive that deeply into this topic, the main thing to understand is this.  When legacy publishers choose the price of your digital book, they are not doing it primarily to maximize your revenue (in fact, they’re doing it with the full knowledge that their price will shrink your revenue).  Instead, they are choosing that price primarily in the service of their strategy to preserve the primacy of paper.
To put it another way:
The legacy imperative of using high ebook prices in an attempt to maintain the primacy of paper costs legacy-published authors money.
Otherwise known, in legacy-speak, as “nurturing authors.”
Now, the biggest bestsellers in the industry — say, James Patterson, or Doug Preston, or Richard Russo, or Scott Turow — sell the majority of their books in paper.  After all, they’ve won the distribution lottery and their books are available in every airport kiosk, Wal-Mart, drugstore, and supermarket across the land.  So their interest in retarding the growth of digital — where the same distribution is available to everyone — and in preserving the position of paper is identical to that of their publishers.  It stands to reason they would fight to maintain the system that has made them so rich.  But if you’re a legacy-published author whose sales are increasingly digital, you need to understand that the legacy strategy of pricing ebooks high is costing you money.  Is that really something you want to help perpetuate?  Yes, it works for James Patterson, but what is it costing you?
Also, for the “Books Are Special Snowflakes” crowd:
Keep in mind that books don't just compete against books. Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.
My favorite part of the update was this:
So, at $9.99, the total pie is bigger - how does Amazon propose to share that revenue pie? We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes. In fact, the 30% share of total revenue is what Hachette forced us to take in 2010 when they illegally colluded with their competitors to raise e-book prices. We had no problem with the 30% -- we did have a big problem with the price increases… While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how the “Authors Guild” and “Authors United” try to spin this.  Fascinating in no small part because Amazon is taking the very position on digital royalties you would expect — indeed, you would insist on — from any organization worthy of inclusion of the word “Authors” in its marquee. Instead we have Amazon championing authors, and “Authors” championing publishers!
Imagine what the “Authors Guild” and “Authors United” could accomplish if they caught the pass Amazon just threw them and drove toward the end zone.   Instead, expect them to run in the opposite direction, as confused and frightened as creationists fleeing from carbon-dated dinosaur bones.
Look, I’m not saying anyone here lacks self-interest.  Of course businesses are self-interested and that’s not the point.  The point is, there’s enlightened self-interest… and selfish self-interest.  A guy who steals a car and a guy who buys one aren’t the same because, hey, each just wanted a car.  And in publishing, we have one camp that seeks to profit by keeping consumer prices high and author incomes low, and another camp that seeks to profit from lower prices and higher incomes.
Which side is deserving of your support?
Over to you, Authors Guilded and United...
Joe sez: For the TL;DR crowd:

If you signed Douglas Preston's letter, you picked the wrong side. 

Even if you're a millionaire bestselling author, driven by greedy self-interest, you're still screwing yourself in the longrun by siding with Hachette.

Preston: Unfortunately, Amazon's actions are hurting, most of all, the debut and midlist authors who haven't yet built up a loyal audience. I'm okay, and the bestselling authors, we have an audience and they're going to find our books one way or another.

Joe sez: Wrong, Doug. It's Hachette's actions that are hurting all authors, including you.

Amazon is trying to sell more of your books and make you more money by stopping your publisher from making ebook prices too high. 

Preston: But we're not against Amazon. And we're not for Hachette at all. We're really trying not to take sides. We're just asking Amazon to resolve its issues with Hachette without affecting authors, without dragging us into it.

Joe sez: I'm not judging you, Doug, but you're a complete pinhead.

See what I did there? I said I wasn't judging you, but I went ahead and judged you.

Exactly like you keep saying you aren't taking sides, but you keep asking Amazon to resolve its issues with Hachette.

If you weren't taking sides, you pinhead, you'd be asking Hachette the same thing.

Preston: But we're not fighting anyone's battle for them. I'm not even in contact with Hachette. They have nothing to do with it. We're just fighting our own battle.

Joe sez: Preston's complete lack of self-awareness astounds me.

Doug, how about you actually get in contact with your damn publisher and wield the power of Authors United, "power to face down one of the world's largest corporations", and tell those morons that they need to accept Amazon's proposal, which will make all authors more money?

Preston: We just want to be able to write our books, and have them sold fairly at the largest bookseller in the world and not have those sales blocked or impeded. If Amazon were a small bookseller, it wouldn't be so concerning. But they have 41 percent of the entire book market and, like, 55 percent of the entire ebook market. Amazon sells probably half the books I sell. So it's very concerning to me.

Joe sez: Then you shouldn't have signed away your rights to a corporation bent on exploiting you. Because if you want them sold "fairly" it should't be at the $14.99 that Hachette wants.

Hire a lawyer. Get out of your contract. Then you can deal directly with Amazon, and they'll give you 70% instead of 17.5%

But the problem, of course, is that Amazon pubbed and self-pubbed books are boycotted by B&N and most indie bookstores. 

Hey! Here's an idea! Maybe the surging, unstoppable powerhouse that is Authors United can do something proactive about that! How about... hmm, what could you do to make a huge impact?... I got it, how about a $70,000 NYT full page ad! That'll show 'em!

Preston: Books are different from toasters and wide-screen TV sets.

Joe sez: Ah, the appeal to emotion fallacy

This is what millionaire authors trot out when they can't say the truth:

We make a shit-ton of money selling paper books. That's what this is really all about.

Preston: "It was when the evidence emerged, that Amazon had been holding certain books  hostage and delaying delivery of other books as a negotiating tactic in a dispute with Hachette. I felt that was unfair. We [authors] had not done anything to Amazon and aren't party to the dispute. And I felt it was unfair of Amazon to target authors as a means of leverage. That's what gave me the idea that we should try to address the situation, to try to change Jeff Bezos' mind.

Joe sez: And who moved my cheese!?

Doug, I'm actually begging you now, please open your mind a teensy weensy bit and see that Hachette has been delaying negotiations because they want ebook prices to be higher.

Amazon has no obligation at all to sell any Hachette books whatsoever. They don't even have a current contract in place with Hachette. The fact that Amazon is still selling any Hachette books at all is a supreme act of generosity, which they are probably doing because they don't want to screw authors by completely removing all Hachette books from their store, which is entirely within Amazon's right to do.

How about you force Hachette to accept Amazon's offer? And maybe, at the same time, force them to double author royalties to 35%?

Oh, wait. I forgot. You aren't in contact with Hachette.

Well, at least you keep insisting that you aren't taking sides. 

Preston: I think most of us think that Amazon is a good company. We're grateful to it for selling our books. We've been a partner to it, we've been supporting Amazon from the very beginning, from the time it was a start-up. And we've felt a little bit betrayed by this. I'm speaking to you now, not as an official spokesman for anybody. That's how I felt personally, and it's turned out a lot of other authors felt the same way.

Joe sez: Ah, the harsh sting of betrayal. Because you've supported Amazon for so long. How selfless of you to do so, when Amazon has 41% of the book market and 55% of the ebook market. 

Maybe you should reconsider your contract with Amazon since you feel so betrayed.


You actually have a contract with.... Hachette! They are the ones preventing you from having pre-order buttons on Amazon, because they are the ones failing to make a deal with Amazon to do so.

If you're going to feel betrayed, pick the right betrayer.

Preston: Is this going to be Amazon's MO [mode of operation] from now on? -- to hurt authors and inconvenience their own customers every time they run into a rough patch negotiating with a publisher? I guess our feeling is that that's not acceptable.

Joe sez: Is this going to be legacy publishing's MO from now on? -- to use their authors as pawns to sacrifice in order to control ebook pricing, which hurts authors and customers?

Is this going to be rich, entitled, self-interested millionaire NYT bestsellers' MO from now on? -- to use their celebrity in order to secure media attention so they can protect their positions as rich, entitled, self-interested millionaire NYT bestsellers?

Unlike you, I don't need to guess what my feelings are. That's NOT acceptable.

Preston: You can't outsource Lee Child to China. They should not be treated as if they're boxes of cereal occupying grocery store shelves.

Joe sez: How about we please let Lee Child do the talking from now on? 

I disagree with Lee about a lot of things, but at least he can ably defend his position. Lee wouldn't say something stupid like "you can't outsource me to China". Books are not special snowflakes, and Lee doesn't need to be outsourced to China because he is no doubt already selling truckloads of books there.

Comparing books to cereal boxes shows that you don't even seem to know what outsourcing is. And stop clinging to the belief that books are special. It is such self-interested BS.

We are entertainers. We aren't curing cancer. We aren't feeding the poor. We're incredibly lucky that we can make a few bucks doing something we love, which is a luxury most people don't have. But we don't deserve special treatment. Amazon removing pre-order buttons isn't equivalent to Alexandra burning. 

If you truly believe reading books is as essential as eating or breathing, take the money you've raised for the NYT ad and give it to

Preston: These are books and authors and writers whose livelihoods are affected by this.

Joe sez: Then force your publisher to negotiate.

Oops... I keep forgetting, you aren't taking sides, and you aren't in touch with Hachette. My bad.

Preston: (Amazon's previous offers to authors are) a lopsided proposal which would severely impact the publisher financially but wouldn't impact Amazon financially very much at all. It's almost like an attempt to ask authors to load Amazon's guns for them. And I don't think it's a serious attempt to bridge a gap, I think it's simply an attempt to divide authors from their publishers."

Joe sez: Why do I feel like I need to spoonfeed you common sense, Doug?

If neither Hachette or Amazon were making money off of Hachette titles, and instead the money went to authors, or charity, it would compel both companies to resolve this issue sooner.

As Amazon has said, Kindle books are only 1 percent of Lagardère Group's sales. Both companies can weather this storm, but something could be done to bring a faster resolution. Amazon has repeatedly tried to do that.

WTF has Hachette done in order to speed this process along? Why haven't you mentioned that?

Preston: There's a lot of stuff going around the Web, and views  being imputed to us, views being imposed on us that are not accurate. People saying [for example] that we're for higher ebook prices. Well that's absurd. We haven't made any comments about ebook prices. I think if you looked at our list of signers, you'd probably find that most of us were in favor of lower ebook prices and discounted books.

Joe sez: Doug, you can't say you want the state to execute a convicted murder, and then say you are against capital punishment. That's some serious cognitive dissonance.

The position you and Authors United are taking will result in higher ebook prices. Period.

Preston: And then they say we're calling for a boycott of Amazon. Absolutely not. We're not calling for a boycott. I'm an Amazon Prime member and I'm still using the company. I guess I'd put it this way: you can be against a war and still be a patriotic citizen. I'm an Amazon customer, I'm just taking exception to this one thing they're doing.

Joe sez: Doug, you're the one that said Amazon is boycotting authors. Which they aren't, by any definition of the term. 

Our letter asked readers not to boycott Amazon, because Amazon isn't at fault here. Authors United, and Stephen Colbert, are unjustly painting Amazon as a bad guy. 

When you start whining in public about being treated unfairly, what do you think will happen? Could a consequence of your actions possibly be that some readers will agree with you, and subsequently not shop at Amazon anymore? Do you think, maybe, that might happen?

For example, I don't have an iota of the untold power that Authors United has (I haven't sold billions of books, and I'm under no delusion that I'm one of the finest writers in the English language). But I can guess, as a consequence of this blog post showing my readers how absolutely wrong you are about this issue, some of those readers won't buy your books anymore.

I'm not calling for a boycott of Douglas Preston books. But in fisking you, I know that a certain percentage of people are going to think you're ridiculous, and they are going to voice their opinion with their wallets. As a direct consequence of me whining in public.

You most certainly can be against a war and still be a patriot. I can love my country without loving my government. But your analogy is poor.

By continuing to sell your books on Amazon, by continuing to shop at Amazon, while stating publicly how harmful Amazon is toward authors, it shows you are a hypocrite. 

A patriot against a war will refuse to fight in that war.

Preston: But I'll say this: there certainly should be room for both indie publishers and traditional publishers, for indie authors and traditional authors. I think we're all in the same leaky boat, and we should be bailing together. I think we should be friends. 

Joe sez: I'll be your friend, Doug. And as your friend, I'll give you some heartfelt advice: Stop doing interviews about this topic.

Indie authors are not in the same leaky boat that Hachette authors are, because we control our IP. We're not subject to the boneheaded negotiating tactics of our publishers. And your pandering to indies is, well, kinda creepy and kinda elitist in a "let's make friends with the backwards savages" kinda way.

But maybe I'm just reading you wrong. I know how interviews can sometimes fail to convey tone and intent.

Preston: Most of the world doesn't give a damn about books and reading, frankly. Ninety percent of the world not only doesn't give a damn about books, they're actually hostile to books. So traditional authors and indie authors have a lot in common and should be friends. Let's not fight. We're not against independent publishing at all.

Joe sez: The world doesn't give a damn? But, but, but books are special! They aren't like toasters or boxes of cereal!

Doug, allow me to let you in on something: indie authors aren't against legacy publishing. Indie authors are pro choice, and some indies will take legacy deals. 

But what all authors seem to be against is getting screwed. In fact, that's why you wrote your letter to Bezos. You incorrectly believe Amazon is treating authors unfairly.

In fact, it's the legacy system that has treated authors unfairly for decades. And it continues to treat authors unfairly. You don't seem able to grasp that, because you won the legacy lottery. You're rich. You have widespread distribution. You were plucked from the masses and given the star treatment.

The rest of us don't get that kind of treatment. But Amazon has allowed us, for the first time ever, to make some money and captain our own ships.

I'm not anti-legacy. I'm not pro-Amazon. I'm pro-author, and in this particular case, the interests of Amazon and of authors are aligned. 

The only ones who can't see that are the entitled millionaires and those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Preston: I want you and everyone else to understand how much we are in favor of self-publishing and indie publishing. I personally am and other authors [in his group are]. So I say let's extend hands, let's shake hands, let's be friends, and not view ourselves in opposition to each other, because I don't think we should be.

Joe sez: Then stop going to the media and saying Amazon needs to stop hurting authors. Stop saying that Amazon is boycotting authors. Don't take out a full page ad that will paint Amazon as the enemy. Stop rejecting Amazon's offers to help the very authors you claim to be trying to help. 

Stop the stupid.

Preston: "Hugh is a nice person. And Hugh feels that Hachette forced Amazon to take these steps, that in order to get Hachette's attention, it had to do what it did."

In speaking with Amazon's Grandinetti -- "he's called me a couple of times" -- Preston says he's heard the same thing from him, as well, an assertion that Amazon, in Preston's take on Grandinetti's words, "had to do this to show Hachette that we were serious."

"But my response to that would be, 'Nobody forced you to do it. I mean, how old are we?' Look, we all have choices. And Amazon is a very powerful company...No one made it do anything."

Joe sez: This is exactly the type of stupid I'm talking about.

Hugh is right that Hachette forced Amazon to take these steps. Hachette refused to negotiate, even after their contract with Amazon ended. What was Amazon supposed to do? Would you allow Hachette to keep publishing your books if you no longer had a contract with them? 

But you don't address that, Doug. 

Russ has called you a couple of times. Has Hachette called you? Why don't you mention that?

Your response is "how old are we?" 

I dunno, Doug. Are we a bunch of petulant, whiny two-year olds who aren't getting our way so we take out a $70k ad in the NYT?

You keep defending Hachette while admitting you haven't even been in touch with them. You like Hugh but don't respond to his well-reasoned points, just simply disagree without defending your position or countering his. You blame Amazon, reject their offers, and apparently absolve all the shitty things your publisher does.

And you do this publicly. You're trying to get people on your side. 

And you want to be friends? Really? 

Preston: There's really a great diversity of opinion among the letter signers about such things as the right price of an ebook, how should publishing look at the future...what kinds of royalties authors should get...but the one united thing we all share is asking Amazon, as simple as this: just settle your differences with Hachette without hurting authors. That's all.

Joe sez: Amazon has made three offers to avoid hurting authors.

You don't care about authors being hurt, Doug. You care about Hachette. Every offer Amazon has made, you reject because you feel it will hurt Hachette.

You can't keep saying Amazon is hurting authors. It's 100% wrong.

By dismissing Amazon's offers, Hachette is the one hurting authors. And so are you.

Preston: If Amazon were to say, 'Okay, we'll put the [pre-order] buttons back, we'll go ahead and sell the books the way we did before -- and we're not going to do this again' -- I think we'd close up shop" on the Authors United effort.

Joe sez: Why stop there? Why not also ask Amazon for a pony, and a blow job?

But whatever you do, don't ask Hachette for anything at all. Just think what would happen if you did. I mean, you might actually be able to force them to accept Amazon's proposal of 35% royalties for authors, 35% to publishers, 30% to Amazon.

And if that happened, it would hasten the end of paper's dominance. And then you would lose all the perks you currently have.

This isn't about helping authors, Doug. It's about helping yourself. 

The inimitable David Gaughran has some questions for Doug at the end of the FutureBook interview:

1. Your comments focus a lot on the loss of pre-orders on certain Hachette titles. Are you aware that self-published authors and many small presses don't have a pre-order facility on Amazon? 

2. Do you have an escalator/bonus in your contract with Hachette which kicks in if you hit the New York Times bestseller list (or similar lists)? Is this the real reason you are so upset about Amazon removing the pre-order facility?

3. Your letter described Amazon's actions as a "boycott" when it is no such thing. Here’s what a real boycott looks like. Since October last year self-publishers have been banned, en masse, from the e-bookstore of the UK chain WH Smith. The company has given zero indication when this ban will be overturned. How come you guys have never written an open letter condemning this actual boycott?

4. Why is this the issue you decided to organize a protest about? If you really cared about the plight of the average author, why have you never campaigned to raise royalty rates, or remove toothless reversion clauses, or awful non-compete clauses? Why have you been silent about the exploitation at (Penguin Random House-owned) Author Solutions?

5. You say you aren't in favor of higher prices. I find this incredibly disingenuous. It's clear  that Hachette's aim in these negotiations is to take back control of retail pricing and/or restrict Amazon's ability to discount e-books. In other words, if Hachette prevails, e-book prices will increase. That's what you are campaigning for.

6. Your letter also complains that Hachette books are no longer being discounted to the same levels as before. Are you aware that Hachette is seeking to take discounting power away from Amazon? In other words, Hachette books will be discounted *even less* if Amazon listens to you and caves to Hachette's demands. Do you see the cognitive dissonance here?

7. You make reference to two of Amazon's offers to compensate affected Hachette authors, depicting them as either disingenuous or unfair. However, you fail to reference Amazon's first offer. That offer was to estimate lost book sales and pay out the respective author royalties from a pool, the cost of which would be borne equally by Hachette and Amazon. (Note: this was exactly what was agreed between Amazon and Macmillan in 2010). Hachette also rejected this offer. I'd love to hear how this first offer was either unfair or disingenuous. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the complete lack of counter-offers from Hachette to compensate affected authors. It seems to me like Hachette wants to keep its authors in the firing line to keep the pressure on Amazon.

Joe sez: I'll add a few questions of my own.

8. You said our petition caught you by surprise. Did you even read it? Have you read any contrary point of view? Why haven't you responded to any of your critics? 

9. Do you understand that if Hachette accepts Amazon's offer, Hachette can still control wholesale price? In the pre-Agency model days, authors and publishers made more money per ebook sale. 

10. Have you ever negotiated with anyone? If Amazon shouldn't have removed pre-order buttons, what do you suggest it should have done when Hachette refused to respond to Amazon's attempts to negotiate, even after Hachette's contract with Amazon ended?

11. Why the hell haven't you contacted Hachette? You've done nothing but defend them, even when admitting you don't know what the negotiation is about. They're your publisher. Your lost sales are a direct consequence of their decisions. 

Now, I predict Doug isn't going to answer any of these questions. Maybe, if he gets publicly shamed enough, he won't run the NYT ad. But even if he doesn't, his mind is already made up on this issue, and no amount of common sense or facts will open his mind.

What Preston needs to do to help his cause is stop all activism. Every time he flaps his jaws, it empowers Hachette to stall negotiations longer. Also, because his position is so indefensible, and the comments he makes so damn stupid, he's become a better pro-Amazon spokesperson than an indie author could ever be. The more he yaps, the more public opinion turns Amazon's way. Amazon couldn't pick a better poster boy.

Stop it, Doug. Really. I'm trying to do you a solid here. Stop the petition. Stop doing interviews. Stop the NYT ad. Stop it all.

For your own good, and for the good of all authors.

Barry sez: It would be encouraging if Preston would respond to David Gaughran's excellent questions above. And if he would respond to the questions I asked in this post:

After all, isn't Preston concerned that his failure to meaningfully engage his critics is what's allowing "the most vociferous voices take over the online discussion"?

At a bare minimum, it would be a really terrific development if Preston and "Authors United" could offer even a single proposal for how Amazon and Hachette might resolve their impasse that doesn't involve Amazon simply capitulating to all Hachette's demands. Have another look at the last paragraph of Porter's post and you'll see this is exactly -- and only -- what Preston claims would be satisfactory.

Which, of course, is the ultimate laugh-line in response to Preston's persistent eye-lash batting demurral that he and "Authors United" aren't taking sides in this dispute. "We're not taking sides; we just want Amazon to stock Hachette's books on whatever terms Hachette wants!"

It's been my experience that the most partisan people believe they have no politics, that the most biased journalists believe they're entirely objective, and that the most destructive personality types truly believe they're good people with good intentions who will produce only good results. What makes people like Preston so pernicious is precisely this:  even as they fight someone else's battle, they're absolutely convinced they're as neutral as Switzerland. In other contexts, it might be funny, or it might be sad. In this one, unchecked, Preston's mypopia is apt to cause a lot of harm, which is why I'm glad to be one of the people who's working to expose "Authors United" for all the qualities Preston is too blinkered to see.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Must. Stop. The Stupid.

Joe sez: So I'm trying to get some writing done, and I swore to myself I'd stay off the Internet. I even went so far as to ask my enabling comrade Barry Eisler not to tell me if Douglas Preston or the Authors Guild do anything particularly stupid.

Barry sez: I prefer to think of myself as your sponsor. “Barry, I’m passing a bar serving straight-up legacy stupid and I want to go in for a fisk... talk me down!”

Joe sez: Barry had the fortitude to keep his word. But ten other writers got in touch, wondering when I was going to say something about the recent stupid things said by Douglas Preston and the Authors Guild. So I admitted defeat and asked Barry to join me, thus becoming a reverse-enabler. Yes, I'm weak.

Barry sez: Yeah, we definitely need new sponsors.

Joe sez: The latest news is that Amazon offered to pay Hachette authors their regular royalty rate, reinstate preorder buttons, stock Hachette titles, and then give everything left over to a literacy charity.

You can guess Preston's reply:

Preston echoed his response to Amazon's first proposal, saying that this offer from Grandinetti "has the same effect of crippling Hachette. If [Hachette] wasn't making money for Lagardère, they'd shut it down."

Barry sez: What’s particularly beautiful here is that just a couple weeks ago, Richard Russo declaimed, “It may be true that some of our publishers are owned by corporations that, like Amazon, sell a lot more than books, but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not.” And now it turns out that if Hachette -- the Kindle sales of which represent something like one percent of the parent company’s profits -- doesn’t make Lagardère enough money, Lagardère will shut them down! The cold-bloodedness of it all! The refusal to accept that Books Are Different and Special!

I swear, these guys just say whatever seems convenient at the moment. And then they forget it’s been said!

Joe sez: Maybe Russo should require that Lagardère take a special Pledge Of Understanding That Books Are Special Snowflakes, like the one he insists on for Amazon?

Barry sez: Over to you, Richard. For the sake of consistency, if nothing else! How did you put it? “First say it, then act like you believe it.” Don’t let Hachette’s parent company destroy bookselling! Make them take the pledge!

Joe sez: I'm guessing Preston and Russo didn't think to confer before they made public statements.

Which makes sense. Because neither Preston nor Russo seem to think at all before making public statements.

More on Preston later in this blog post. A day earlier, the Authors Guild, proving that they drink from the trough of stupid as Authors United, wrote what amounts to an Onion satire on how unbiased they are toward self-published indies.

The AG post in self-interested bold fail italics. Since satire is sometimes hard to understand, I'll translate it in regular, level-headed font.

The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate.

Translation: "Published writer's advocate" equals "legacy published writer's advocate." And we'll now prove that's what we mean.

Joe sez: Also, I love the "big-tent" adjective, because this immediately made me think of circus clowns. "And now, in the center ring, ten silly performers in facepaint hit each other with pies to make six-year olds laugh!"*

*My apologies to all clowns reading this. That was an unfair analogy, and you did nothing to deserve it. You need to take back the word "clown".

The recent clash between Amazon and Hachette Book Group has called attention to the contrasting viewpoints of traditionally-published and self-published authors.

Translation: The Kindle has been around since 2007, but this is the first we've heard of this self-publishing thingy, so we feel the need to address it. Because, we've been told, maybe a few authors are trying it out.

During this dispute the Guild has spoken out against Amazon’s tactics—which needlessly imperil the livelihoods of authors who are not involved in the negotiations—while also challenging the major publishing houses to revisit the parsimonious stance they’ve taken on authors’ e-book royalties.

Translation: We haven't said a word against Hachette because we're afraid they won't publish us anymore. So instead we'll suck up to them by condemning Amazon.

Also, we're addressing what Konrath and others have said about us acting like we're legacy publishing lapdogs (or toadies or lackies or sycophants) by reminding everyone that we've stated we don't like those lockstep 25% ebook royalties.

Not that we said anything when publishers unilaterally made this the royalty standard, years ago. And not that we actually have ever done anything other than say we don't like it. We certainly haven't dedicated entire blog posts to that matter. Or ginned up media attention in order to force publishers to raise royalties. And our prominent members haven't ever started a petition, or taken out a full page NYT ad, on this topic. But keep an eye on the straw man and maybe you'll forget that.

Joe sez: As for "needlessly imperil", well, maybe if Hachette accepted one of Amazon's offers to compensate authors during the negotiations, these authors wouldn't be imperiled. It doesn't need to be needless. There is a proposed solution.

Barry sez: I have to say, I’ve never liked that 25% figure. It’s 25% of net, which in an agency environment means 17.5% of list. The legacy industry deliberately uses the net figure because it sounds bigger. It’s like a guy measuring his penis in centimeters.

Joe sez: It's a smart scheme. I've often thought of selling a penis ruler that says "inches" but each inch actually only measures ¾ of an inch. I bet I'd sell a million. (Which would really only be 750,000.)

The Guild recognizes all authors’ rights to make a living from their books and to pursue the most suitable audience for them.

Translation: We're on your side! Really! So you should be on our side!

Joe sez: I like the word "recognizes". Like at the UN, where the chairperson recognizes the delegate from Tuvalu, and then no one pays a lick of attention because Tuvalu has a population of what, 350 people? But, hey, we included them!

It is a sign of the strength and diversity of our membership that two of our Council Members, Douglas Preston and CJ Lyons, have taken different public stands in defense of serious authors.

Translation: See! We have a member that has a dissenting opinion! We're so diverse!

Joe sez: Also, I have a friend that is gay! I swear I'm not a homophobe! That proves it!

I do applaud the Authors Guild for allowing self-published authors to join. But can someone point to a public stance the AG has taken that benefits self-pubbed authors? Or maybe a firm stance against legacy publishers? You know, something that shows they care about anything other than the self-interest of their most successful members?

Can anyone show me that? I want to know if it exists. Hell, I want to see someone, anyone, ably defend the AG and their position on this.

Douglas Preston has composed an open letter to Amazon calling on the corporation to resolve the dispute without further hurting Hachette authors. “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon,” Preston writes, “we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihoods of the authors on whom it has built its business.”

Translation: So now that we mentioned that we're diverse, let's devote the rest of this post to our anti-Amazon stance.

That includes linking to Preston's letter, and not linking to the one CJ Lyons signed, or mentioning her thoughts on the issue even though we named her.

Joe sez: So Preston, and by extension the Authors Guild, aren't taking sides, but are encouraging Amazon to stop harming authors.

Hmm. If they weren't taking sides, wouldn't they be encouraging Hachette to, you know, stop avoiding negotiations with Amazon?

If they weren't taking sides, wouldn't they want Hachette to, you know, accept Amazon's offer to help authors? Amazon's made three offers so far (give Authors 50% of a fund matched by Hachette, give authors 100% of royalties, give authors full royalties and the rest to charity) and Preston is quick to reply that it would be like taking blood money.

That's not taking sides?

Perhaps Preston and I have different definitions of "taking sides".

In response to Preston’s letter to Amazon, self-published authors circulated a petition to Hachette asking it to “work on a resolution that keeps e-book prices reasonable and pays authors a fair wage.” Authors Guild Council Member CJ Lyons was a prominent signatory. In a cover letter addressed to their readers, the self-published writers praised Amazon for keeping prices low and the Amazon platforms for “giving all writers a chance to reach an audience.”

Translation: See! We're giving equal time to both sides of the issue! Even though we didn't link to that petition Lyons signed.

So much fail in such a brief amount of time. "We recognize the delegate of Tuvalu" and then turn off the delegate's microphone...

After these letters had been circulated, Authors Guild co-Vice President Richard Russo published an open letter taking the long view, noting that the outcome of the present dispute is dwarfed by the need for a healthy publishing landscape that can support a diverse and inclusive community of authors. “The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life,” he began. “What we care about is a healthy [literary] ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive.”

Translation: We published Russo's crock of nonsense , which reeked of bias. But we haven't published anything that actually takes a hard, uncompromising look at this situation.

You know, like Laura Resnick did in the AG comments (just before the AG closed them):

Laura: I have been making my full-time living as a traditionally published writer for over 25 years. I now also self-publish, but I have no plans to abandon traditional publishing.

And I consider the Authors Guild such a travesty that I would genuinely prefer to burn my money rather than lend my support the AG by making due payments. (Needless to say, I am not an AG member.)

The AG actively advocated in favor of the collusive price-fixing scheme, even though, in addition to being a violation of federal law (and it's jaw-dropping how the seriousness of that consistently eludes the AG), it removed money from the pockets of writers =and= readers.

As has been pointed out by other commenters, the AG has not taken a stand against egregious "industry standard" e-royalty rates, egregious "industry standard" reversion clauses wherein a writer's intellectual property is controlled by the publisher until well after her death now, egregious industry-wide non-compete clauses designed to prevent freelance writers from working and earning, and inadequate industry-wide accounting, reporting, and payment systems.

Apparently the AG has no time or energy for focusing on ANY issues, such as those above, which are matters of advocacy for authors' rights, earnings, and professional well-being, because it's so busy campaigning against one online bookstore that is the most prolific channel of profits for traditional publishers -and- which has been a key player in the e-volution that has ensured many more writers (does the AG remember what a writer is?) now earn income from their work than ever before.

The AG's -only- real-world functions by now appear to be taking sides against that bookseller and in favor of the egregious practices of the massive publishing corporations whose contracts and fiscal terms exploit writers while enriching corporate CEOs and stockholders.

Let me reiterate: I am a full-time, self-supporting traditionally-published writer and have been for over 25 years--and there is no sense in which the AG represents my interests or pursues advocacy from which a working writer like me benefits.

Joe sez: Laura wasn't alone in her opinion. Of the 25 comments on the AG blog, 24 were decidedly anti-Guild. There may have been more, but some, like Barry Eisler's, were never approved by the moderator:

Barry: It’s pretty amazing. Here’s the comment I tried to leave yesterday. When I tried again today, a minute later the comments were closed:

For anyone inclined to consider thoughts a bit less hidebound than those of the "Authors Guild," here are a few good posts:

What was the problem? Did I use obscene language?  Insult anyone?  Engage in unacceptably trollish behavior?

Or did I simply link to a few posts that offer opposing viewpoints?

It's funny, I write about the AG, and former president Scott Turow, and AG pitchman Richard Russo, and Douglas Preston's self-serving anti-Amazon efforts fairly regularly.  And I always link to, and extensively quote from, anything I'm discussing.  Not just because I want my readers to be able to make up their own minds.  Not just because I have some integrity.  But also because I want people to see exactly what the AG and its legacy-publishing shills are saying.  Their positions are so illogical, so self-contradictory, and so self-serving that I believe the more light I can shine on them, the better people will understand what the AG and its people are really about.

But when an organization tries to conceal what its critics are saying, it's fair to surmise that something else is driving its behavior.  And I don't know what that thing could be other than fear of contrary opinions the organization senses are more compelling than the organization's propaganda.
Because really, what can you say about an organization so brittle, so insular, so fearful... that it won't even permit a few contrary links in a comment section?  What can you say about an organization calling itself an "Authors Guild"... that censors the voices of authors whose opinions it doesn't like?

I guess it's kind of fitting. The same organization dedicated to a business model that prevents most writers from reaching readers is determined to prevent its members from being infected by views contravening or even questioning AG orthodoxy.

Whatever your own position on the merits and shortcomings of the Authors Guild, if you think the organization would serve writers better by permitting contrary viewpoints in the comments to its blog, please share this post. With the hashtag #TheAuthorsGuildCensorsAuthors .

The mandarins of the Authors Guild want to manage the information we're exposed to.  Whether they get away with it is up to us.

Joe sez: And as we previously mentioned, the comments have now been closed on the AG post, so don't bother trying to add to the discussion.

My comments never close, however. So feel free to post them here.

One way or another the Amazon-Hachette dispute will be resolved, but the issue of fair compensation for authors will remain a central concern to the Guild. “We’re committed to supporting working writers,” says Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson. “Writers should be able to make a living at what they do – which is to provide an essential contribution to society. However the publishing world changes, writers will still be crucial to it. No matter how the written word is distributed, only writers can write. They deserve respect and support.”

Translation: We're committed to supporting working writers, except those who make money self-pubbing on Amazon, because Amazon is an evil monopoly fueled by the screams of babies. So we'll continue to be Hachette's bitch, publicly deride Amazon, and not give our self-published members a voice.

Joe sez: "working writers"? Do some not work? Or maybe some aren't privy to what Russo calls "the writing life".

And writers "should be able to make a living"? Really? When does the world owe anyone a living? Does Robinson need this rah-rah pandering because she isn't making any salient points?

Oh, I guess she does. We "provide an essential contribution to society". You know, like farmers and doctors. Because we're "crucial".

This logic fallacy, by the way, is called an appeal to emotion.

"Only writers can write."

This logical fallacy, by the way, is called stupid.

"deserve respect and support"

Except, you know, from the Authors Guild, unless you're one of the 1%.

Which brings us to Preston, again. This is via PW.

Since Douglas Preston began circulating a letter to other marquee and midlist authors late last month in an effort to remove writers from the Amazon-Hachette dispute, he has captured nearly 1,000 author-signatures. Now Preston tells PW he has gotten a second offer from Amazon's v-p of Kindle Content, Russ Grandinetti, along with a request from the executive to quiet the chorus of authors speaking out against the e-tailer.

Joe sez: Oh… I see now. Preston's letter was meant to remove authors from the Amazon-Hachette dispute. That's why he keeps speaking out against Amazon whenever Amazon tries to remove authors from the Amazon-Hachette dispute.

Barry sez: Yes, it really was exceptionally kind of PW to describe Preston’s purpose as wanting “to remove writers from the dispute.” Amazon has made three separate attempts to do just that. Preston and Hachette have dismissed every one of them out of hand. They have offered zero proposals of their own. Under the circumstances, someone who cared about actual behavior might wonder whether Preston is focused on something other than removing writers from a dispute. But not PW...

In the latest phone conversation, which took place Monday after The Bookseller broke the news that the authors who signed Preston's letter are forming a group called Authors United, Grandinetti made a new offer to Preston.

Joe sez: Allow me to be the first to nominate The Bookseller for the Pulitzer. All the news that's fit to break. I wonder how they're able to get scoops like that?

In Amazon's earlier proposal, which was a nonstarter, the e-tailer said it would give authors the option to receive 100% of the revenue from sales of their e-books, a sum that would include what both Amazon and Hachette normally earn from each sale. At the same time, Amazon would continue to work toward an end to its stalled terms negotiation with Hachette.

Barry sez: Oh, it “was” a nonstarter? In some detached, objectively quantifiable way? Or did Preston and Hachette simply dismiss it as a nonstarter for entirely subjective reasons, while offering not a single proposed solution of their own?

Go on, PW, you’re doing great...

Joe sez: Have we seen Hachette making any efforts to work toward an end? To help authors? Has Hachette denied the claim that they've been stalling?

Barry sez: Actually, they did: I saw a paywalled link on Publisher’s Lunch to an anonymous Hachette official who would only deny it off the record. Which is the same as saying it’s true.

BTW, this was sufficiently lame journalistic behavior on PL’s part to make a paragraph I wrote in a separate post bear repeating:

(By the way, shame on Publisher’s Lunch for offering pointless, pernicious, promiscuous anonymity to the unnamed “Hachette executive” quoted in that article.  Amazon’s executives are all on the record, and Publisher's Lunch offers anonymity to Hachette executives…. why, exactly?  Are they whistleblowers?  Do they fear retaliation from Amazon?  This kind of anonymity is unworthy of anyone who takes journalism seriously.)

Joe sez: Shouldn't Preston, and the AG, and Authors United (aka Some Authors, a Genre Writing Organization, a Trust, and a Sentient Conference United) be openly asking Hachette about whether Hachette has been dragging its feet and what it’s doing to break the impasse and protect its authors?

Barry sez: File that one under “Rhetorical Questions.”

This time around, Grandinetti suggested a what-if scenario in which Amazon would return to delivering Hachette authors their standard royalties on e-books, and return to stocking of all the publisher's titles. Amazon and Hachette, meanwhile, would continue to negotiate, turning all proceeds each company normally earns from the sale of e-book titles over to an agreed-upon literacy charity. Like the first offer, this one would motivate both companies to negotiate, something Grandinetti accused Hachette of stalling on. "We tried to talk to them for months," he reportedly told Preston.

Joe sez: And Preston's response, like any level-headed adult, must have been: "Well, that seems reasonable and generous and it negates my earlier worry that I'd be profiting at the expense of my publisher. I should contact Hachette and ask them why they aren't trying harder to negotiate, and perhaps try to convince them to take this offer."



Preston echoed his response to Amazon's first proposal, saying that this offer from Grandinetti "has the same effect of crippling Hachette. If [Hachette] wasn't making money for Lagardère, they'd shut it down."

Amazon, of course, feels that authors are not seeing Hachette in the right light, as a multi-national corporation no different, on many levels, than the e-tailer.

When PW contacted Amazon about the conversation, a spokesperson for the company said: "You have to look at the parent company--Lagardère Group--rather than just the Hachette division. Kindle books are only 1% of Lagardère Group's sales. They can afford it, and should stop using their authors as human shields."

Joe sez: It's not about who is the bigger corporation. It's about Amazon wanting to keep ebook prices down, and Hachette protecting their paper oligopoly. Of the two corporations, Amazon's interests side with the interests of most authors. You know, except for those uber-rich NYT bestsellers.

Preston, however, remains unswayed by this new proposal, and by Grandinetti telling him that the authors are having the opposite of their intended effect. "Every time [the authors] make a statement, it makes Hachette less willing to compromise," Grandinetti is reported to have said.

Joe sez: It's worth noting that the title of this article is Amazon Makes Plea To Authors to Quiet Down. But the subject line for those PW subscribers who got this in the email was Amazon Tries to Silence Authors United.

Yes, that's exactly what Amazon is doing. Trying to silence Authors United using the nefarious tactic of trying to address their concerns. Those Amazon monsters!

So now PW, as well as the AG, are writing for the Onion. Who could have guessed PW had such a tongue in cheek sense of humor?

Because it is obvious to anyone with at least two firing neurons that Amazon is trying to get Hachette to negotiate while removing authors from the firing line. They tried giving 50% to an author fund if Hachette matched it, tried giving 100% or royalties to authors, and are now offering to give the money to charity.

Honestly, Mr. Preston, if Amazon offered to usher in an age of world peace, would that also be a "non- starter"?

Barry sez: See also, Amazon Cancer Cure A Stunt to Separate Patients From Healthcare Providers...

Joe sez: If Some Authors, a Genre Writing Organization, a Trust, and a Sentient Conference United wanted these negotiations to end, they'd shut up and stop trying to embolden Hachette.

But they don't want these negotiations to end. That's a smokescreen.

What they want is Amazon to capitulate. Even though Preston has acknowledged that he doesn’t even really know what the negotiations are about. Thus the status quo continues, uninterrupted.

Instead, Preston is moving forward with plans to publish the initial letter. In a day or so, Preston will stop adding names to the letter so that he can finalize a copy for a full-page New York Times ad that could run as early as this week or next. “I have never seen authors come together like this,” Preston said, pointing out that writers aren’t known as "joiners" or team players.

Joe sez: You've never seen authors come together like this? How about the thousands who signed the opposing petition?

Barry sez: Well, technically our petition isn’t really “like this.” Because it has something like seven times the number of signatures Preston could garner.

Among the bestselling and prize-winning signers of the letter, 13 offered to donate to the cause. Those willing to be named include Lee Child, Stephen King, John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson, and Stacy Schiff. The group easily generated, Preston said, more than enough money to pay for the ad.

Joe sez: I should hope so. I know I wouldn't align myself with the morally corrupt unless they paid me really well.

Barry sez: James Patterson makes almost 100 million dollars a year. I would think he managed to generate enough to help buy an ad. Anyway, I feel reassured. For a minute there, I was worried that Authors United was going to try to steal an ad. I’m glad to know they’re paying for it with their own money.

“We do have other plans,” Preston added, noting that Authors United is "being realistic" about the fact that the struggle between Amazon and Hachette is going to be a lengthy one. "I really feel like Amazon has a long-term strategy,” he said.

Joe sez: You feel Amazon has a long-term strategy? Thank you, Amazing Kreskin. No wonder you're the spearhead of this movement, with sharp observations such as that.

Barry sez: You know, now that Preston brings it up, I’m beginning to think a Long-Term Strategy might not be a bad thing to have. I wonder if Hachette could get one?

Joe sez: Maybe they could become Content Collaborators and Tackle A Huge Variety of Issues?

Preston believes that the e-tailer’s attempt to divide Hachette authors from their publisher won’t work. “First of all, I’ve been with Hachette for 25 years," he said. "I have a six-book contract with Hachette. The thing about Amazon, they think it’s all about money. It’s not [all] about money,”

Joe sez: No, it's not all about money. It's about blind loyalty to an abusive publisher who has harmed most of its authors but made you and a few others very rich.

So it's about money AND stupidity.

Note to Authors United: For the love of all that is good in the world, get another poster boy.

Really, I'm done with even trying to pretend to be polite. We. Must. Stop. The Stupid. When the machine is so broken that the media is stupid enough to repeat stupid quotes from a stupid movement founded on a platform of stupidity, it makes me want to weep.

Hachette wants to control their ebook prices. Rich authors want to stay rich. A retailer with a philosophy of enlightened self-interest wants to keep prices low, and is treating authors better than any company in history. That's the entirety of this situation. Anyone making more of it is either supremely self-interested and knows they're ladeling out BS, or an idiot. And when groups like Authors United are apparently reveling in themselves and the media attention they're receiving for being so utterly wrong, it makes me angry.

Writers are still being exploited, and some of them still buy into the old "how do I get a legacy deal?" nonsense. The only way to combat that is to show it is nonsense, over and over again, in the strongest terms possible.

For another group of writers, though, Hachette, not Amazon, is the bad guy. A letter/petition to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch posted three weeks ago on, has gotten over seven times the number of signatures as the Authors United letter. Among the 7,300 signers of the petition are Hugh Howey, a leading spokesperson for indie authors.

Joe sez: And PW then immediately contacted Hugh to get a quote. Or me, since I helped write that petition. And then they spent some time explaining our point of view.

Er, no. Of course not. That would be the opposite of stupid, and we can't have any common sense entering this debate.

Why is Hugh a "leading spokesperson for indie authors" and not a "marquee" author as they describe Preston as? Hugh has sold millions of books. Hugh's not marquee?

I'd describe Preston as "a leading spokesperson for self-interested collective narcissism" and Hugh as "a selfless and tireless populist who wants all authors treated fairly and profits nothing from his activism.” But then, I don't sell my blog articles to the legacy publishing industry.

Again, the AG closed comments to this post, but two of the anonymous ones were:

Thanks for censoring my other comment. I feel like giving up, but I'll try again.

I'm an author published by a Hachette imprint, and my sales are down at least 30% because of this protracted negotiation.

I'm not financially successful enough to wave away the repeated offers of fair recompense for the financial damage I've suffered. I have no idea why Hachette, the Author's Guild, and some of Hachette's most successful and renowned authors have all decided to turn them down on my behalf. I don't dare put my name to any complaint, however, because I don't want to jeopardize my relationships with my agent and my publishers. This is precisely why we need a functional Author's Guild.

It's all well and good to grandstand and make bold gestures when you're rich and successful, but I'm not. I'm a struggling writer who feels hurt and let down by the organizations and people who take my money in dues and are supposed to be helping me.

Why doesn't the Author's Guild speak for authors like me? :(


Not that it will make you feel better but you're not the only one in this position.

I'm extremely disappointed in those supporting Preston's letter. My contract is with Hachette, not Amazon so why spend the time, money and PR to bash Amazon? If it's true that Hachette is not showing up at the negotiating table, they're the ones the AG should be talking to but it's clear which side of the dispute that the AG falls on. I won't be paying dues to the AG again and I won't be looking at legacy publishing again either.

So why don't the Authors Guild and Authors United seem to care about this aspect of the dispute?

Barry sez: Well, they do. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t censor and close the comments.

“The Authors Guild. We Care About What You’re Saying. Just Enough to Censor It.”

Joe sez: I guess they do care in that sense. Like publishers “nurture.”

But maybe the moderator was just bad. Maybe you were simply overlooked.

Barry sez: I tried twice. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Plus, look at some of the other comments. Maybe I’ve just been blacklisted? Dunno. Whatever’s going on, they’re calling themselves the “Authors Guild.” They claim they represent authors, but won’t allow them a voice? I’d call that censorship, per the dictionary.

Joe sez: So it's censorship. And harmful to their own purported cause.

Barry sez: Right: To be clear, I’m not saying they don’t have the right. It’s their blog. But “can” and “should” aren’t the same thing. And when the “Authors Guild” suppresses the voices of authors on its own blog, I’m certainly going to call them out for it so authors know how fearful and brittle the organization is and what it’s really about.

Joe sez: So getting back to the question I posed earlier, why are there all these public pronouncements about Amazon being an evil monopoly, with rich authors reflexively defending Hachette?

Barry sez: Okay, let’s summarize. Here’s what we know.

1.  Legacy publishers are enjoying record profits. And those profits are “coming entirely off the backs of authors” because they’re being driven by digital sales, in which publishers keep even more per unit and share with authors even less.

2.  Even “Authors Guild” pitchman Richard Russo has grudgingly admitted that, you know, um, maybe 17.5% might be a tad low for authors, and that “this needs to change” (though apparently, it will have to change all by itself, not because of anything Russo et al might do about it).

3.  “Authors United” progenitor Douglas Preston has boldly stated thatWe have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power; perhaps even enough power to face down one of the world's largest corporations.” Let’s leave aside Preston’s possible conflation of people enjoying what he writes and caring about what he says: regardless, he clearly believes Authors United has the power to face down enormous corporations.

So… the Authors Guild and Authors United (so many organizations with “Authors” in the title! I’m concerned the Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth will be jealous) are going to use that power to demand better terms from their publishers on behalf of all authors, right?

Apparently not. Nothing more than the odd mealy-mouthed and pro forma acknowledgment of legacy publishing’s ongoing royalty landgrab in digital (and on legacy publishing’s various other abusive terms -- the length-of-copyright terms; the twice-yearly payments; the prohibitions on authors publishing other works -- not a word). How can that be?

To understand why the mandarins of the Authors Guild and Authors United don’t give a damn about the crappy terms legacy publishing doles out in lockstep to the majority of authors, you have to understand one simple thing. Which is that:

A tiny percentage of authors gets a significantly higher defacto digital royalty rate than everyone else.

Ace legacy-publishing shill Scott Turow himself, in a rare moment of clarity and candor, acknowledged as much:

Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it.

(By the way, to see how just about everything else Turow said in the linked article is cringe-worthy nonsense, you have to read this terrific TechDirt takedown.)

What Turow means is that the vast majority of authors receive an advance that their publisher wants and expect to earn out. But a select few receive an advance so large it’s understood it will never earn out. If you never earn out, it doesn’t matter what your nominal royalty rate might have been; the multi-million-dollar payout you receive upfront becomes your full payment for the book.

And now you know why the “Authors Guild” and “Authors United” are utterly uninterested in taking on the Big Five over the cartel’s astonishly low lockstep 17.5% digital royalty rate. For the people who boost these organizations, that low rate doesn’t apply. They get a special, under-the-table rate; the low rate applies to the rest of us. And those vintage 17th-century twice-yearly payments (by contrast, Amazon pays its authors every month)? They don’t care about those, either, because the one-percenters aren’t paid in royalties -- they receive a monster cash bolus upfront. And the forever license terms, the non-competes? If someone were paying you millions upfront for a book, you might not care about those, either.

Now look. I make a good living from my writing and I don’t begrudge anyone who’s making even more. Good for them. What does irritate me, though, is when these perfumed princes posture as advocates of the rank and file. That’s nothing more than self-serving, propagandistic bullshit. They say the system needs to be reformed, they say they have the power to reform it… and what do they do? They cavalierly dismiss Amazon’s offer to create a pool to compensate Hachette authors who suffer losses because of the ongoing Amazon/Hachette dispute. They dismiss a follow-up Amazon offer to give Hachette authors 100% of revenues until the dispute is resolved. They dismiss yet another Amazon offer to take those revenues and give them to the literacy charity of Authors United’s choice. They ask nothing of Hachette, ever, nor of any other legacy publisher. They never even attempt to address the fact that Hachette has been dragging its feet in the negotiations since the beginning of the year.

All this power, and it doesn’t even occur to them to say to Hachette, “You want us to back you up in your fight with Amazon? We want a press release from you promising to change the following policies for all authors by X date. No press release? No support.” That’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from an “Authors Guild” even remotely worthy of the name.

But you don’t see that. Instead, a bunch of plutocrat authors are going to drop a hundred grand -- about the equivalent of anyone else buying a cup of coffee at 7-Eleven -- to take out a New York Times ad castigating Amazon. That’s how they’re using their “power” on behalf of all authors.

It’s as though these people don’t recognize something fundamental: they sell through Amazon, but they sell to the Big Five. It’s the latter where they could have real influence -- if they wanted to exercise it. But it’s so much easier to pretend to be doing something on behalf of all authors… by bashing their publishers’ customer rather than standing up to their own customers.

Or, if these authors really do think Amazon is so bad, they could publicly call on their publishers to remove their titles from Amazon. It wouldn’t hurt Amazon directly, but a small demonstration of the courage of their authorial convictions would enable people to take them a little more seriously.

But why should we expect anything other than what they’re doing? The legacy system has served these people well; it would be betting against human nature to expect them to want to change it, let alone to actually try.

When James Patterson and Douglas Preston and Richard Russo and Scott Turow tell you they’re trying to protect your interests, they’re conning you. Whether they’re also conning themselves, I don’t know. Don’t judge them by their rhetoric; judge them by their behavior. And by their behavior you can see they have no interest at all in improving publishing for everyone. Only in preserving it for themselves.