Big Publishing

Authors Guilded, United, And Representing… Not Authors

30 July 2015

From Barry Eisler via Techdirt:

One of the more Orwellian aspects of the book world is the number of publisher advocate groups calling themselves Author This and Author That. The Authors Guild, Authors United, theAssociation of Authors’ Representatives… their devotion to protecting the interests of authors is right there in the names, right? No further inquiry necessary.

That’s the idea behind the misleading nomenclature, anyway. But even a cursory glance at the behavior of all these “author” organizations reveals their true priorities and actual allegiances.

Let’s start with the Authors Guild, which claims to “have served as the collective voice of American authors,” and which describes its mission as “to support working writers. We advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright. We create community and we fight for a living wage.” The Authors Guild even proudly notes that it “has initiated lawsuits in defense of authors’ rights, where necessary.”

Leave aside the wooly talk about creating community. How does the collective voice of American authors, the supporter of working writers, the advocate for the rights of writers, go about fighting for that living wage? Especially given that publishers are making more money from digital booksthan ever, and sharing less of that money with authors than ever.

Well, the organization has periodically mentioned in passing that the shockingly low lockstep17.5% legacy publisher digital royalty rate “needs to change,” so there’s that. Sometimes a spokesperson expresses his or her “hopes” for a little more fairness. And recently they did managea whole blog post on the topic. But that’s all. Occasional words; zero deeds. And likewise regarding a host of other obvious, longstanding, outrageous legacy publisher abuses such as life-of-copyright (forever) terms, twice-yearly payment provisions, draconian non-compete clauses, and impossible out-of-print clauses. Pro forma words and practiced complicity.

But does all this mean the Authors Guild is lying when it says it sometimes initiates lawsuits?

Not at all. The organization did sue Google and Hathitrust over digitization (the first suit was settled; in the second, the Authors Guild lost). Leave aside the merits of those suits; I think they were wrongheaded, but that’s not the point. The point is that when the Authors Guild really wants to throw down, it throws down — just never against legacy publishers and the Rich Relationships™ by which they systematically screw authors (in fact, in the Google suit, the Authors Guild fought alongside the Association of American Publishers).

. . . .

If the Authors Guild really wanted to “advocate for fair contracts,” it would support self-publishing, which even more than Amazon publishing is empowering authors with the first real competition the industry has ever seen — a 70% digital royalty rate (four times the lockstep legacy standard); control over packaging and other business decisions; faster time to market. Yet there’s nothing on the Authors Guild website about how to use KDP, Kobo, NookPress, Smashwords, or any other self-publishing resource. Nothing about AuthorEarnings.com, the most comprehensive breakdown available about where authors are making money in Amazon-, legacy- and self-publishing. The only “self-publishing” resource available through the Collective Voice of American Authors has been a notorious scam outfit called (naturally) Author Solutions (a relationship the Authors Guild finally terminated in May).

Link to the rest at Techdirt

Here’s a link to Barry Eisler’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Will Traditional Publishing Retain Its Dominance by Mandating That Its Authors Keep Their Distance From Self-Published Authors?

29 July 2015

From HuffPost Books:

Imagine my dismay this week to discover that one of the Big Five houses has a policy that bars its authors from endorsing print-on-demand books. Sadly, it’s not surprising. Traditional publishing actively works to position itself against nontraditional publishing yet has no issue whatsoever with scooping up self-published success stories. Double standard? Yes.

. . . .

That a traditional publisher would institute a policy against blurbing POD books suggests a few things:

1) They’re equating print-on-demand with self-publishing. Inaccurate. Many self-published books are not print-on-demand, and many traditionally published books are flipped to POD status, oftentimes as soon as a year following publication. During my years at Seal Press, I sat in on countless meetings where we decided, based on sluggish sales, which books should become print-on-demand, since it makes no business sense whatsoever to reprint 500 books (what offset printing requires to benefit from economies of scale) for titles that aren’t moving. And I know for a fact that the big houses practice this as well.

2) They’re operating from the worst kind of scarcity mentality. They must believe that endorsing POD (or self-published) books will shine a negative light on their authors.

Link to the rest at HuffPost Books

The smart book for a new market

28 July 2015

From FutureBook:

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the audio download market was rising to the challenge of a flagging e-book market, with growth at sustainable pricing levels and investment in new original content. But could the enhanced e-book also be making a return to bolster publisher income and re-spark interest in what some are now describing as “complex” books?

Last week The Bookseller looked at the e-book market with first half figures from the major publishers, concluding that what was once booming is now maturing. Volume e-book figures, supplied by Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, show a collective 5.3% rise in unit sales for the first six months of 2015.

The five per cent jump in sales is the shallowest collective rise since The Bookseller began collating e-book volume data from trade publishing’s biggest players in six and 12-month cycles. Caveats abound of course: this is just the Big Five, so it not only excludes other traditional publishers’ sales, but the self-published sector too. Nevertheless, the figures supplied suggest a market worth around £172m, or 24% of the entire print and digital market’s value.

. . . .

Why these two distinct markets are behaving as they are is tough to call. The indie author community will tell you that their sales remain healthy (although somewhat impacted by Kindle Unlimited) and that they are gaining share in key areas (such as romance) from traditional publishers, a situation that will become exacerbated as the big publishers return to full agency contracts.

. . . .

Enter the complex e-book. Penguin Random House UK deputy c.e.o. Ian  Hudson told my colleagues that increasingly an important factor for the digital landscape in 2015 was that vanilla e-books “aren’t the only digital success story” for publishers, with Hudson pointing to its investment in audio and new distribution channels that service the non e-ink markets.

. . . .

In The Bookseller’s piece last week, Hudson referenced an increased investment in a wide variety of apps and enhanced—or “complex”, as Hudson calls them—e-books, such as a special digital edition of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, featuring the full text of the novella alongside film clips and archive material.

Link to the rest at FutureBook

Why I’ll Wait to Read Go Set a Watchman

28 July 2015

From BookRiot:

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird and like most readers I wanted another Harper Lee book. But now that one exists, I’m not sure I’ll read it.

I’m worried about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Go Set A Watchman. As most readers know by now, Lee wrote GSAW first, and then, on the advice of her editor, pulled out the flashback scenes to craft a new book set in an earlier period in Atticus and Scout’s lives. She never returned to the first manuscript.

Also well known is Lee’s aversion to publicity. It’s been reported that she didn’t want to compete with her own enormous success, that she didn’t want to deal with the attention a new book would generate, and that she had said all she wanted to say with TKAM. A half century of behavior consistent with not publishing anything supports those theories. Lee’s lawyer, editor (who did no actual editing apparently), and publisher have tried to explain why GSAW is now being published, but none of the stories really make sense, or evenc ohere with one another.

Alice Lee, Harper’s older sister, lawyer, and housemate, died in 2014. Since Alice Lee turned over the legal reigns to her junior partner, Tonja Carter, there has been a marked increase in litigation related to Lee and her classic novel. It was Carter who found GSAW in 2014 (although Sotheby’s and Lee’s former literary agent claim Carter was with them while they looked at the manuscript in 2011. Carter says she had stepped out of the room). Carter’s attempt to clarify when, how and why she found the manuscript hasn’t really helped.

. . . .

Earlier this year, Alabama’s Department of Human Resources, acting on an anonymous tip, went and talked with Lee, who answered questions about the publication of Go Set a Watchman to their satisfaction. That’s a good sign, but it doesn’t allay my worries. For one thing, her interviewer was probably not a medical professional who can assess cognitive function. For another, if Lee is being exploited, it’s not a straightforward case, like sudden unexplained withdrawals of large sums from her bank account would be. It involves an artistic legacy, something that is not easy to quantify.

. . . .

I personally question whether Lee is capable of consenting to or understanding what is going on. I think there is a difference between being able to carry on a basic conversation and having the level of understanding needed to undertake the publication of a book manuscript.

Link to the rest at BookRiot and thanks to Masha for the tip.

Pearson confirms Economist sale talks

27 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

Pearson has confirmed that it is in talks to sell The Economist Group.

The company said it is “in discussions” with the board of The Economist Group and with trustees regarding sale of its 50% share.

“There is no certainty that this process will lead to a transaction,” said a statement from Pearson. The company said it would make further announcements “if and when appropriate”.

. . . .

In response to a question about whether Pearson would next look to dispose of its stake in Penguin Random House, John Fallon, c.e.o of Pearson, said: “We have a 47% share in Penguin Random House and we are very happy to continue to be shareholders with the progress they are making.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Fraud

26 July 2015

From The New York Times:

Called away on family business, I was afraid I’d missed the sweet spot for commentary on the Harper Lee/“To Kill a Mockingbird”/“Go Set a Watchman” controversy — that moment right after “Watchman’s” release on July 14 when it was all anybody in literary circles could talk about.

Then again, the Rupert Murdoch-owned publishing house HarperCollins announced just this week that it had sold more than 1.1 million copies in a week’s time, making it the “fastest-selling book in company history.” “Watchman” has rocketed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, where it will surely stay for a while. And the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal not only excerpted the first chapter on the Friday before publication, but it also gave its readers a chance to win a signed first edition of the book. Talk about synergy!

So perhaps it’s not too late after all to point out that the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.

The Ur-fact about Harper Lee is that after publishing her beloved novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1960, she not only never published another book; for most of that time she insisted she never would. Until now, that is, when she’s 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home. Perhaps just as important, her sister Alice, Lee’s longtime protector, passed away last November. Her new protector, Tonja Carter, who had worked in Alice Lee’s law office, is the one who brought the “new novel” to HarperCollins’s attention, claiming, conveniently, to have found it shortly before Alice died.

. . . .

The Times’s account suggests an alternate scenario: that Carter had been sitting on the discovery of the manuscript since 2011, waiting for the moment when she, not Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee’s affairs.

That’s issue No. 1. Issue No. 2 is the question of whether “Go Set a Watchman” is, in fact, a “newly discovered” novel, worthy of the hoopla it has received, or whether it something less than that: a historical artifact or, more bluntly, a not-very-good first draft that eventually became, with a lot of hard work and smart editing, an American classic.

The Murdoch empire is insisting on the former, of course; that’s what you do when you’re hoping to sell millions of books in an effort to boost the bottom line.

. . . .

In one of her last interviews, conducted in 1964, Lee said: “I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.”

A publisher that cared about Harper Lee’s legacy would have taken those words to heart, and declined to publish “Go Set a Watchman,” the good idea that Lee eventually transformed into a gem.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Barb and several others for the tip.

Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss Won’t Save Publishing

26 July 2015

From the Harvard Business Review:

The hottest trend right now in publishing is…things that were written more than a half-century ago. This month, publishers have enjoyed an unexpected bonanza from the vault, starting with the release of Harper Lee’s late 1950s creation Go Set a Watchman, which sold more than 1.1 million copies in North America during its first week on sale and now has a whopping 3.3 million copies in print. On July 28th, Random House will issue Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get?, another Mad Men-era manuscript expected to be a blockbuster, with a million copies already printed. Of course, the “forgotten treasure” boom can’t last forever; there are only so many relics you can pull out of the archives.

This blast of nostalgia, while great in the short term, illuminates a problematic phenomenon. Publishers are relying on successful retreads like Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss, whose names alone will sell books, and authors who come to them with a pre-existing “platform,” i.e., a built-in audience. What they’re often missing these days is a partnership with less prominent authorsthey cultivate over the long term, enabling them to be far more successful than they could on their own.

Though exact numbers are hard to come by, there’s a clear consensus that following the economic shocks of 2008, advances paid to writers are declining—in some cases precipitously. And the major publishing houses are increasingly eschewing midlist authors—those who sell under 15,000 to 25,000 copies—in favor of focusing on a few titles that are expected to be blockbusters.

Publishers’ caution makes logical and economic sense. That risk mitigation is their industry’s analogue of the sweeping shift away from generous corporate pension “defined benefit” plansto more tightly-controlled “defined contribution” plans like 401ks. This “show-me-your-audience” skepticism may be a smart move. However, it also risks hastening the decline of the publishing industry, because when authors (or celebrities) have built up enough of an independent fan base, they may well balk at accepting the standard 15% royalty on hardcover book sales or 25% of ebook sales, when they could earn up to 70% if they self-published. This is especially dangerous because publishers have become so reliant on the power of their stars’ brand names – as evinced by the massive pop of “Robert Galbraith’s” crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling once he was unmasked as JK Rowling.

Will every prominent author migrate to self-publishing? Certainly not.

. . . .

But it’s risky for publishers to assume that will be sufficient to keep their top authors in the fold. Each of these services is becoming more commoditized as time passes: physical distribution is less essential as readership migrates online, and affordable design services like 99designs have proliferated (even popular author Tim Ferriss used the service to prototype designs for his commercially-published bestseller The 4-Hour Body). It’s become accepted wisdom among authors that you are responsible for publicizing your book (and that it’s a terrible mistake to rely solely on your publisher to market it for you). And high quality editing, while it’s the lifeblood of a good book, is also relatively easy to come by on freelance sites like Upwork. The sites aren’t solely the province of cheap providers with a shaky grasp of English; they’re often populated by journalists who lost their jobs in the past decade, including more than a quarter of all magazine journalists and a whopping 16,000 newspaper reporters and editors.

. . . .

Be more transparent with data. If I were to self-publish on Amazon, I’d see thorough, up-to-the-minute sales data about how my book was performing. Publishing through a traditional house? Most of us get weekly Nielsen BookScan reports—courtesy of Amazon—and sales figures every six months from our publisher. It’s an 18th century level of opacity that seems shockingly out of date for authors trying to make smart marketing decisions about how and where to promote their books. How can you even know, if you get zero real-time feedback?

. . . .

Double down on quality. If publishers are going to make themselves indispensable, one way to do it is a quality play, bringing together a crack team that provides white glove service to create an amazing product across editing, design, and more. Personally, I’ve received excellent editorial and design help from my publishers, but that’s not the case with every author these days. One friend who worked with a major publisher told me in all seriousness, “I don’t think my editor read my book.” Another friend reported that upon submitting the first draft of his manuscript, his editor had exactly zero edits for him and immediately moved it along in the process. If these publishers continue to act as a rubber stamp, the only service they’re really offering their authors is hassle-avoidance; for self-published authors, it still takes time and effort to assemble your own freelance team. Getting serious about quality would not only help commercial publishers offer real value to their authors, but would also help their books stay distinctive in the face of mass self-publishing.

Link to the rest at Harvard Business Review and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature

24 July 2015

From Portland Monthly:

Midway through The Word for World Is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1972 Vietnam allegory, war looms over the planet Athshe.

On one side stand the native Athsheans, diminutive, green-furred humanoids who spend their days dreaming, traipsing peaceably through the woods, and generally just being super mellow. On the other are the militant Earth colonists, come to strip the planet’s forests bare, exploit its inhabitants, and all but elect Richard Nixon as overlord. The Earthlings are the clear antagonists here, but to the forward-thinking colonist Raj Lyubov, the humans’ heartless imperialism isn’t the only factor pushing Athshe into conflict. It’s also this: “We haven’t got any old women.” The “nubile fertile high-breasted young women” the Earth government sent along are nice, Lyubov thinks, but they’d never speak up to restore sanity. “But old women are different from everybody else,” he muses, “they say what they think.”

At age 85—five decades into an almost comically illustrious writing career that has seen her reinvent entire genres, sell millions of books, and win the outright worship of literary peers from Margaret Atwood to Zadie Smith—Le Guin is unquestionably old now, with fogged olive eyes and a stooped (if still bustling) gait. She has also said what she thinks with unusual relish of late. Thus, it came as something of a surprise that Le Guin initially scorned her character’s words when I reminded her of them 43 years later.

“Well, that’s kind of a truism,” she told me, in the snug upstairs den of her longtime Northwest Portland home. Just behind her, two great bookshelves contained row upon row of her 50-plus books in their various editions and translations. Le Guin’s irrepressible cat, Pard, kept up a steady multipaw assault on the closed door. The author seemed to roll the phrase around again in her mind, and the corners of her mouth turned down in distaste at a hint of cliché in her own work. “I’m ashamed of myself for that. Most people think that old women say what they think. Most men are quite convinced of it.”

. . . .

Le Guin . . . stepped up to the podium in her shiny paisley blazer, pulled the microphone down to accommodate her stature, and coolly proceeded to torch her own publishers, the “profiteer” Amazon, and the overcommercialized state of literature in general.

“We need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art,” she said. “Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit … is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”

At first, the publishers and writers in the audience reacted with shell-shocked silence, as if they had been slapped by their own grandmother. Yet by the end, when she proclaimed that she didn’t want to “watch American literature get sold down the river,” they were roaring. To Le Guin, who told me she’d never been as nervous in her life as she was before her talk, this response was gratifying enough; as the Los Angeles Times (among others) reported, her performance “stole the show.” What she never expected, however, was that the video of her short speech would garner hundreds of thousands of views online, making her, as she likes to put it, “as popular as Maru the cat” for a brief while.

“It seemed like what I said was something a surprising number of people wanted to hear said,” she told me, still pleased.

. . . .

“I think she’s gotten more daring, more feminist, more political,” says the Portland novelist Molly Gloss, a onetime student of Le Guin’s who has been her friend since the 1980s. “She’s more willing to rattle cages. At the National Book Awards, there’s a whole table full of Amazon folks, and she looks right at them and tells them what she thinks of how they’re trying to take over publishing. And then she looks right at her own publishing house and says their policies are making it impossible for libraries to lend e-books. These aren’t the kinds of things you imagine other writers being willing to say out loud.”

Link to the rest at Portland Monthly and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Another wake-up call from Amazon as they serve author interests better than publishers have

24 July 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Although those fighting Amazon can and will point to what they consider to be situations where Amazon takes unfair advantage of its marketplace position, there are two aspects of what has transpired over the past 20 years that the critics who plead for government intervention will almost certainly ignore.

Most of Amazon’s success is due to their own stellar performance: innovating, investing, executing, and having a vision of what could happen as they grew.

Most of what Amazon has done to build their business — almost all of what they’ve done until the past few years of Kindle dominance — benefited most publishers and helped them grow their sales and their profitability. (In fact, book publishing uniquely among media businesses didn’t fall off a cliff in the decade surrounding the millenium and a strong case could be made that Amazon actually saved them.)

This has not stopped. The most recent example was announced yesterday. Amazon is now enabling readers to sign up on their favorite authors’ pages for notification of forthcoming books. This once again demonstratesAmazon’s willingness to innovate. And by doing this they also will deliver benefits to the publishers — an increase in out-of-the-box sales of new books to the authors’ sign-up lists. But the chances are that authors will be more appreciative than publishers will. That aspect of this initiative then feeds into the meme that “Amazon is taking over!”

. . . .

When we talk about author websites, we stress the importance of building the fan base in size and intensity. Among the big literary agencies investing in helping authors with their digital presence (and many are), we helped one figure out the techniques to teach to help their authors gather mailing list names.

. . . .

Now Amazon has, in their typical way (simple and self-serving) made this incredibly easy. We’ve met publishers who wonder why an author would need a website of their own rather than just a page on the publisher’s site. There are a lot of reasons that might be true, including many publishers’ apparent reluctance to “promote” the books an author has done with a prior publisher. But now publishers might hear authors asking the question a different way. Why do they need any author page on the Web besides the one they get from Amazon?

. . . .

But the single most important thing an author would want to tell his/her fans is “I’ve got a new book coming” and Amazon has handled that.

And in so doing, they have increased the control they have of the book marketplace and highlighted once again that part of the ground they take is ground the publishers simply cede to them. Any publisher that is not helping authors engage with their readers and actively create their own email lists to alert the interested to new books is put on notice now that they are quite late. But one thing is still true: better late than never.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin and thanks to Chris for the tip.

LitChat: Is Amazon Guilty of Antitrust?

22 July 2015

As mentioned previously, @LitChat held a Twitter chat session inviting Authors United, the Authors Guild, the Association of Authors Representatives, the American Booksellers Association, and Amazon to participate in a discussion about whether Amazon is guilty of antitrust [violations].

Nobody from AU, AG, AAR, ABA or Amazon showed. A lot of TPV regulars did.

Here’s a link to the entire conversation.

PG had previously promised Mrs. PG a late lunch in the mountains, so he missed the whole thing.

He did see the following and kicked himself for only having his iPhone camera with him.

Mountains-TW
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Stream-Oil Paint 2

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