What’s Next for Authors United?

22 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Authors United has been spectacularly unsuccessful in its supposed mission to get Amazon and Hachette to agree a deal.

By contrast, Simon & Schuster was able to agree a deal in just three weeks – without the intervention of Douglas Preston’s group.

To be fair, Authors United has been very good at one thing: getting media attention.

Perhaps it’s time for Douglas Preston to widen the aims of the group and start campaigning on issues which actually matter.

It would be great if Authors United could get the media to focus on any of these problems. Alternatively, Authors United could continue to focus on propping up a broken system which only rewards those at the very top (like Douglas Preston, surprisingly).

1. Diversity in Publishing

Publishing is very white and very middle class. And, at the upper echelons, often very male too. One of the many knock on effects of this is that traditionally published books tend to be very white and very middle class. Publishing claims to want more diverse books from more diverse voices, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until more people from diverse backgrounds are representing authors and acquiring books.

2. One-sided Contracts

Contracts offered by publishers can contain awful clauses. Option clauses which unfairly tie authors’ hands. Reversion clauses which are meaningless in a POD/digital world where books never go out of print. And non-compete clauses which can pointlessly damage a writer’s career.

Some say that a good agent will negotiate those out. My experience of talking to fellow writers is that it’s often the case that even good agents can fail to negotiate these out because they don’t want to damage their relationship with the publisher. But, really, these clauses should form no part of any boilerplate. Agents shouldn’t have to negotiate them out because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. And the upsurge in digital-first imprints taking unagented submissions means this is a growing problem.

. . . .

6. Author Exploitation

The most unwelcome development in the last few years has been the huge increase in author exploitation. What’s particularly distasteful about this phenomenon is that the most predatory companies are not the fly-by-night operations of the past, but huge corporations exploiting writers on a massive scale. Oh and they are owned and operated by traditional publishers, happy to profit from this crap.

Penguin Random House bought Author Solutions two years ago and, instead of cleaning house, it has aggressively expanded its scammy operations. HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster, and Hay House are just some of the traditional publishers with exploitative vanity press operations being run on their behalf by Author Solutions. This is completely unacceptable. And instead of getting worked up about what Amazon might do in the future, I respectfully suggest that you should focus on what publishers are doing right now to authors.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

I haven’t lived a good life

22 October 2014

“I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.”

“You know, that’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere”

Dashiell Hammett

Online Harassment

22 October 2014

Nothing to do with books, but something to do with online discussions that sometimes surround books.

From The Pew Internet Research Project:

Harassment—from garden-variety name calling to more threatening behavior— is a common part of online life that colors the experiences of many web users. Fully 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Pew Research asked respondents about six different forms of online harassment. Those who witnessed harassment said they had seen at least one of the following occur to others online:

  • 60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names
  • 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
  • 25% had seen someone being physically threatened
  • 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time
  • 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed
  • 18% said they had seen someone be stalked

Those who have personally experienced online harassment said they were the target of at least one of the following online:

  • 27% of internet users have been called offensive names
  • 22% have had someone try to purposefully embarrass them
  • 8% have been physically threatened
  • 8% have been stalked
  • 7% have been harassed for a sustained period
  • 6% have been sexually harassed

In Pew Research Center’s first survey devoted to the subject, two distinct but overlapping categories of online harassment occur to internet users. The first set of experiences is somewhat less severe: it includes name-calling and embarrassment. It is a layer of annoyance so common that those who see or experience it say they often ignore it.

The second category of harassment targets a smaller segment of the online public, but involves more severe experiences such as being the target of physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, stalking, and sexual harassment.

Link to the rest at The Pew Internet Research Project

Germany’s Blloon launches in UK

22 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

Subscription e-book service Blloon launched in the UK today (22nd October), with titles from publishers such as Allen & Unwin, Faber and Profile.

The German company founded by Txtr boss Thomas Leliveld plans to target young people who “read up to 12 books a year”.

. . . .

The Blloon app can be downloaded from the iTunes store for free and the company said it has designed “a beautiful app with gamification at its core” which it believes will engage young people.

Anyone can read 1,000 pages for free and can continue reading by sharing and recommending books – or by inviting others to join the service. “Research shows that 85% of young people would be likely to recommend books if rewarded for it – this gamification gets young people talking about books and Blloon, while getting something in return,” the company said.

Further pages can also be bought as top-ups or provided monthly by upgrading to a premium membership at a cost of £3.99 for 500 pages.

. . . .

We aren’t offering an expensive ‘unlimited’ service simply because that isn’t the demographic we are targeting. And people can only read so much. We’re welcoming young people, the majority of whom currently read up to 12 books a year.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Barnes & Noble forced out of The Bronx

22 October 2014

From Welcome2TheBronx:

Imagine a borough of over 1.4 million people without a single book store.

We keep hearing our Borough President mentioning The “New” Bronx when he talks about all the developments going on in our borough —  something which many find rather offensive.  When the Mall at Bay Plaza opened back in August, he used it yet again.  Since the mall opened, several businesses have been forced out by rising rents at the malls developed and run by Prestige Properties and now our last bookstore has fallen victim to this “New Bronx” mantra.

Welcome2TheBronx first heard about this from Amelia Zaino, a 24 year old graduate student at Lehman College studying Geographic Information Studies who lives in Co-op City. Zaino posted about it in the Facebook Group Bronx Movers & Shakers(after reading about it in the Co-op City Times) and immediately started a petition, along with her friend Jessica Cruz, addressed to Prestige Properties to keep Barnes and Noble in place at Bay Plaza.

. . . .

In a statement issued to Welcome2TheBronx, Barnes and Noble’s VP for Development, David Dearson said, “Our lease is expiring and we worked diligently to extend the lease. The property owner informed us that they had other users who were willing to pay in excess of what Barnes & Noble was paying for the leased space. We operated our Bronx store and were happy to serve the community for 15 years. We’ll look to re-open as soon as an opportunity presents itself.”

Link to the rest at Welcome2TheBronx

Simon & Schuster e-book deal with Amazon closes a chapter

22 October 2014

From The New York Post:

The Simon & Schuster agreement with Amazon brought a sigh of relief to some authors, who will not have to worry about it deteriorating into an ugly, protracted battle such as the one that still pits Amazon against Hachette on e-book pricing.

“I love both Simon & Schuster and Amazon, so I’m thrilled that war has been averted,” said Walter Isaacson, the best-selling Steve Jobs biographer, who just released his latest S&S book, “The Innovators.”

“I think [S&S CEO] Carolyn Reidy and [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos should now be made peace envoys to the Middle East so they can save not just publishing but the world,” Isaacson said.

Link to the rest at The New York Post

Ellora’s Cave vs. Dear Author Suit Removed to Federal Court

22 October 2014

PG has previously posted about the lawsuit that Ellora’s Cave filed against Dear Author and its proprietor, alleging that Dear Author had defamed Ellora’s Cave in a blog post describing EC’s financial problems.

Dear Author has just removed the case from the Ohio state court where it was originally filed to the relevant U.S. District Court in Ohio claiming diversity jurisdiction is present in the case.

PG will not discuss diversity jurisdiction in detail because it’s pretty boring, but, in a nutshell, if a party (individual, corporation, etc.) sues a party that is a citizen of another state and the amount in controversy is more than $75,000, the defendant has the right to remove the lawsuit to federal court. Wikipedia has a mostly-correct discussion of diversity jurisdiction in layperson’s terms if you want more.

There are a wide range of reasons that a defendant might want to remove a lawsuit to federal court, but, as a general proposition, many attorneys feel that the quality of federal judges and magistrates may be higher than that of state judges (although PG will attest to exactly the opposite being the case on many occasions) and that some state court judges may tend to give the benefit of the doubt to a local litigant (ditto for exactly the opposite).

At a minimum, this indicates to PG that Ellora’s Cave will have a real fight on its hands. He is not familiar with Ohio laws and practices, but many federal courts have the reputation for not putting up with a lot of smoke and mirrors on the part of parties or their attorneys. In prior litigation in state court, EC reportedly was extremely dilatory in responding to requests for financial documents, etc. PG would not have wanted to try to defend such behavior in most of the federal courts where he appeared in past years.

An upset federal judge sitting in his/her court can be an intimidating presence.

Here’s the Notice of Removal:

War on #amwriting

22 October 2014

From Medium:

Writing is like asthma. It used to be cool to be prescribed a blue inhaler and get excused cross-country running. Now, the only exceptional kids are those with fully operational lungs.

I realised the full extent of my hatred for unpublished novelists during an evening of drinking craft beer with a friend. It’s something I like to do, drinking beer, often also tweeting #amdrinking to let my thousands of Twitter followers know that I’m drinking beer because that’s how Twitter works. We wore plaid shirts and talked about craft beer, craft coffee and vinyl. And, after I’d returned from the toilet, he revealed that he wanted to quit being a lumberjack (or whatever it is that he does – facetiming Japanese businessmen) to write a novel. It would be a novel easily translated to cinema, he said. It would be a novel about his boyhood and the middle-class struggles he faced. We’ve all got one in us, he said, meaning a novel. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for The Third Man, he said, apart from the bit about Switzerland and cuckoo-clocks. That was Orson Welles.

I knew all this. And I told him so. But what I didn’t tell him was that there’s lots of stuff we all have in us, a spleen for example, but decide not to share. I didn’t say that. I only said that his book sounded ‘neat’.

This casual plan for a future novel-writing is indicative of the literary world’s failing health. We must wake to this imminent danger. Soon, more people will write fiction than read it. Much like my parents’ inevitable adoption of Facebook, I dread the day Dad announces he’s writing a novel set in an alternative reality where the Nazis won after all. I’d rather bring up my son in the Third Reich than a world in which nobody reads fiction but everybody writes it.

The internet has mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers. Starting a novel is the middle-class equivalent of getting a fake tan and manicure, sure that you’re only an audition away from pop chart success. I blame JK Rowling, rich beyond our wildest dreams, her origin myth reliant on the image of a knackered Dell laptop in an Edinburgh cafe. It’s like the X Men but if the X Men had convinced themselves of their mutant powers through overuse of the #amxmen hashtag, rather than concrete proof of superhuman ability. We are blind to the harsh truth-light-radiating facts such as ‘half of self-published authors earn less than $500’, facts written about in newspapers by professional writers.

NaNoWriMo’s got a lot to answer for. In 2012, the website says, ‘341,375 participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.’ That figure is coming up to 10% of total local election votes cast in the UK’s 2012 local elections. That’s a political party of novelists, if you concede that writing a novel makes you a novelist.

. . . .

NaNoWriMo must be the worst thing that’s happened to literary agents since alcoholic lunches fell out of fashion.

. . . .

Don’t call yourself a novelist unless you’re paid to write novels. You take your clothes off every day but you don’t introduce yourself to strangers as a stripper, right?

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Ben for the tip.

What the closure of Bilbary tells us about the market

21 October 2014

From Futurebook:

Full disclosure. I liked Bilbary. I even went on BBC Radio 4 to say so. The site seemed to be an attempt to take the skills of the shop-floor bookseller or librarian onto the web, while at the same introducing a new way of acquiring that content, lending. I also thought its link-up with libraries was smart. There’s no particular reason why libraries should acquire e-books in the same way they acquire print titles, and Bilbary offered an alternative model. Was it then doomed to failure? Probably.

According to the liquidator’s account, which The Bookseller reports on today, while there was initial “interest from publishers, they later proved unwilling to enter into contracts allowing the trade books to be loaned, consequently the company secured content for sales only to enable it to get to the market sooner”. Liquidator Portland blamed “fundamental gaps in the company’s understanding of the market and the rise in level of competition that had developed” for Bilbary’s demise. “Despite the company’s efforts to cut costs by terminating staff contracts, vacating the rented premises and closing the Luxembourg office, funds of £1.5m was needed to continue with a re-structure of the business. An external investor had pledged to invest £750k, provided this was matched by existing or new shareholders, unfortunately the investor later took the decision not to invest.”

Bilbary’s likeable founder Tim Coates has his own take. The former Waterstones m.d. told my colleague Benedicte Page that the site was hampered by the terms discussions between Amazon and Hachette USA, meaning that investors could not be certain what business model would arise in the future. “The dispute between Amazon and publishers on e-book pricing [and the agency model] makes it impossible to invest. We are in a situation where investors are terrified of risking a new venture because no-one knows what the pricing structure will be. As long as the argument has been going on, any investor says, ‘What is the pricing model?’ and you can’t answer them. Bilbary was caught in the crossfire from the industry dispute and we weren’t alone.”

The liquidators were appointed on 29th April 2014—just as the dispute between Hachette and Amazon broke cover, but it is possible to understand why investors were jittery even before that. The shift to agency four years before meant a new way of doing business with publishers gaining new controls over how e-book content could be sold and at what prices. Surprisingly, a lot of booksellers were against agency: they recognised that it removed a key lever from their customer offer, and knew that publishers would take years to understand how to price to the consumer. The Department of Justice’s intervention in 2012 meant even this new way of doing business had to be re-written. During that time Amazon first lost, and then gained marketshare, with competitors such as Apple, Kobo, and Nook largely failing to make significant head-way in the major markets of the US and UK. At the same time, the massive growth in those two markets halted, at least for the major publishers, while a huge shadow market around self-published books rose – virtually out of nowhere.

Link to the rest at Futurebook

Hachette and Authors United are in a box

21 October 2014

PG is certain that someone has made the following observations, but he hasn’t seen them, so here they are.

The deal between Amazon and Simon & Schuster has put Hachette in a box.

The Amazon/Hachette agreement was critical to Big Publishing because Hachette’s was the first of the court-ordered Price-Fix Six contracts to expire. The new Hachette deal would set the pattern for the other miscreants when their Amazon contracts expired.

By making a deal with S&S two months before the S&S contract expired, the Amazon/S&S contract is the pattern contract for the other publishers. One does not assume that S&S has harmed its authors or itself with its Amazon contract.

Amazon has performed a switcheroo. Now the onus is on Hachette. What’s wrong with Hachette that it can’t get the same contract that S&S has?

Commentators not terminally afflicted with Amazon Derangement Syndrome must now surely conclude that Hachette’s intransigence is the cause of the loudly-trumpeted suffering of Hachette authors.

At some point, Hachette’s public problems with Amazon are going to influence authors’ and agents’ decisions when Hachette and S&S are bidding for the same book.

If another large publisher coming out of lockup signs a deal with Amazon, the game is completely over.

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