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Authors United Epic Fail-O-Rama

14 July 2015

Joe Konrath considers the latest whinings to the Justice Department from Authors United, the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Authors Representatives:

More nonsense from Authors United.

. . . .

This is a long one, because their letter was so long. And so, so stupid. Tomorrow I’ll spank the Authors Guild, which did something semi-helpful by blogging about ebook royalties, and then stomped on that good faith with awful opinions about piracy, and by endorsing the following nonsense:

Dear Assistant Attorney General Baer:

We believe that Amazon has gathered unprecedented market power over the world of books, which many experts have asserted make it both a monopoly in its role as a seller of books to the public and a monopsony in its role as a buyer of books from publishers. We believe Amazon has been misusing that power in many ways, and we seek the benefit of your office to address this situation.

Amazon is not a monopoly, via Time Magazine:

While Amazon is certainly a large and growing online retailer, even a liberal interpretation of its share of the domestic e-commerce market puts the figure at less than 50%, which is well below the 70% threshold courts typically require as proof of monopoly power. (…) And even if a court found Amazon to possess monopoly power — as one could somewhat realistically claim it does in the e-book market — that’s still only half the battle, as it must also be proved that said power is being exercised to the detriment of consumers.

Lower prices is not to the detriment of consumers.

. . . .

Good luck trying to show that suppliers are being forced to sell ebooks at a loss, which reduces the supply. There are more ebooks available than ever, with more suppliers than ever. Digital media doesn’t subscribe to the rules of supply and demand. Supply is unlimited, because ebooks can be copied and delivered with the press of a button, with low to no overhead other than sunk costs involving the initial production (editing, cover art, formatting, etc.)

The Big 5 are hurting because they are too stupid, lazy, and inefficient to compete. Not because Amazon is controlling them, or anyone else. And, ultimately, pulishers aren’t suppliers. They are middlemen. Writers are the suppliers–something Authors United can’t seem to grasp.

On its current course, Amazon threatens to derail the benefits of a revolution in the way books are created and sold in America. This shift was brought about by two broad innovations. The first is the e-book, the most dramatic new technology in publishing since the invention of the printing press. Because of the low cost of producing and distributing an e-book, many more authors now have the opportunity to self-publish, and millions of people can read books in formats that better fit their pocketbooks and preferences.

The second advance is the e-commerce technology that makes possible on-line bookstores. This techonology has connected readers with a vast selection of physical books, including rare, obscure, and out-of-print volumes. E-commerce has also made it far easier for small publishers to reach customers around the world.

I might be getting ahead of the letter, but apparently Amazon threatens to derail the benefits that Amazon itself–at great cost and risk–revolutionized.

Also, I hope Authors United spell-checked and corrected “techonology” before sending this. Lots of irony in misspelling that…

. . . .

Initially, Amazon deployed these new technologies in ways that benefited both readers and authors. While Amazon did not invent the e-book or e-reader, it created a platform that made it easy for millions around the world to access e-books, including readers who live nowhere near a brick and mortar bookstore.

But as Amazon has become a global corporation of unprecedented size, scope, and power, it is increasingly engaging in practices that undermine the interests of readers, authors, publishers, and society as a whole. Amazon has used the digital revolution in book publishing to exercise control over the marketplace of ideas in ways that threaten not merely open markets but free speech.

And Gutenberg needed to be stopped because he sold more printing presses–you know, that thing he invented–than anyone else.

If by “threatening an open market” they mean “competing better than anyone else” than they are correct.

I’m looking forward to see how Amazon also threatens free speech and the marketplace of ideas. Let’s read on…

While Amazon contends that its goal is to serve consumers by eliminating middlemen in publishing (which it calls the “gatekeepers”), Amazon’s executives have also made clear they intend to make Amazon itself the sole gatekeeper in this industry.

Unlike every other company, which limit themselves to small shares of a marketplace without ever trying to grow. I mean, Coke never tries to take market share from Pepsi. That would be unfair.

But what’s at stake here is not merely monopoly control of a commodity; what is at stake is whether we allow one of the nation’s most important marketplaces of information to be dominated and supervised by a single corporation.

Okay, I think I’m beginning to understand. So many consumers and suppliers use Amazon, freely and by choice, that free speech and ideas will be squelched, because…

Uh…

Because there is no other place to speak freely or exchange ideas. Because Amazon has become the sole omnipotent totalitarian power in the universe, because…

Um…

Because consumers and suppliers freely choose it to be.

Ack. And there are 20 more pages of this crap.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation, DOJ, Joe Konrath

21 Comments to “Authors United Epic Fail-O-Rama”

  1. I really, truly have run out of exasperated sounds to utter each time someone uses “monopoly” in this fashion. I want to throw a dictionary at them so hard it bruises.

    And I can count on JK to make sense and make me laugh.

  2. They need another ‘ed’ in their name:

    Authors Unedited, as in no editing for facts or truth is ever done before posting …

  3. I highly recommend clicking through to Joe’s blog and reading the entire fisk. It’s truly epic.

  4. This was one epic fisk. And better yet, another one is coming. I detect a popcorn shortage coming…

  5. Should I call Authors United a whambulance?

  6. I wonder if AU’s goal is to write so many letters to the DOJ that the DOJ investigates just to shut them up. There’s a collective groan when the FedEx truck pulls up.

  7. But, but, but! The Authors Guild is under new management! They really, really want to help authors now.

    Sure they do. Well, some authors. Apparently only the ones dumb enough to participate in this mess, though.

    Call me cynical, but I’ve found that the times I call BS on something are the times I don’t feel so bad. It’s the times I trust people/organizations to do right by me that leave a bad taste and a load of hurt.

  8. My favorite was their use of the word techonology. Really? All these writer wrote this and no one put it through a spell checker?

    J.A. Konrath has far more patience than I do. If not for his snarky interjections, I would have given up on reading the entire letter.

    • Imagine how far down on the DOJ totem pole one would have to be to draw the job of reading that letter and explaining it to one’s superiors. I have only sympathy for that poor person and tons of respect for Joe for making it easier on us and educational to boot.

  9. Al the Great and Powerful

    That was AWESOME! Thank you for persevering through the long slog, and I join the chorus urging the DOJ to read this response!

  10. Preston and other AU authors must believe they lost a lot of money during the Amazon~Hachette dispute. They can’t blame their publisher, because (a) that’s risky and (b) it violates their whole worldview. So they have to blame Amazon. Otherwise, this nonsense is simply baffling. It can’t sell books for Preston, can it? Because it makes him look like a major idiot.

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