Monthly Archives: July 2013

Brick-and-Mortar Two-fer: New ABA President On “Brilliant” King; UK Bookstore Poll Shows 63% of Customers “Showroom”

New ABA president Steve Bercu managed to praise Stephen King and take a swipe at the Justice Department all in the same sentence during his first official communication to the membership since taking office.

“I want to give a little shout-out to Stephen King and Hard Case Crime for their brilliant and retro treatment of Joyland,” Bercu, CEO of BookPeople in Austin, TX says in a letter posted on the ABA site.  “After reading about the odd take on windowing in the trial brought on by the misguided efforts of the Department of Justice to help out Amazon, it is wonderful to see someone understanding the value that windowing really brings to this and any other book. I intend to sell as many as possible to do my part to make this little experiment a success.”

The Apple price-fixing trial in June included discussion of publishers using windowing–holding back digital versions to give more expensive hardcover copies a chance to sell first–in their ill-fated attempts to prevent Amazon’s $9.99 ebook pricing from diminishing the perceived value of books. This spring King released his latest book in print only, saying he wanted readers to buy it at bookstores.

In a sign of the challenges facing bricks and mortar retailers, 63 percent of consumers admitted to using bookstores for “showrooming“– looking at a book before purchasing it online, according to a new study by the Booksellers Association, the ABA’s counterpart in the UK.

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Bulletin Board

This week’s batch includes a little something for everyone: mystery, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even a residency program. Deadlines range from July 31 – August 1.

The Amy Clampitt Fund Residency Program is open to poets and established writers and grants free use of the Amy Clampitt House for a six to twelve month period beginning on February 3, 2014 and ending on January 17, 2015. The resident fellow receives a $2,500 monthly stipend and is expected to reside in the house full time and focus exclusively on his/her creative work.

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Judge in Apple Case Cites Publishers’ “Frequently Coordinated” Efforts to Upend Amazon’s $9.99 Ebook Pricing

In her ruling against Apple today, Judge Denise Cote cites witness testimony as well as documentary evidence including emails and other records of communication considered during the three-week price-fixing trial. She says circumstantial evidence also “compellingly” supports the idea that Apple gave publishers the means to pull off  a pricing conspiracy they couldn’t accomplish on their own.

Here’s the sequence of events as detailed in Cote’s decision:

Late 2008-through 2009: Major publishers who would later be named as defendants along with Apple tried “frequently coordinated their efforts” to pressure Amazon to raise its $9.99 price point for digital books.

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Judge Rules Apple Led Price Conspiracy, “Seizing the Moment” As Publishers Looked to Defy Amazon

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote has ruled against Apple in the Justice Department’s ebook price-fixing case, saying the tech company coordinated a scheme involving five major publishers that were looking for a way to challenge Amazon’s ebook pricing strategy. In a decision issued today, Cote said:

“The plaintiffs have shown that the publisher defendants conspired with  each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book  prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that  conspiracy. Without Apple’s orchestration of this  conspiracy, it would not have succeeded as it did in the spring of 2010.”

Apple released a statement saying it plans to appeal the decision.

“Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said. “When we introduced the iBookstore in 2010, we gave customers more choice, injecting much needed innovation and competition into the market, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Cote also called for a trial on damages, noting that the conspiracy caused ebook prices to rise, resulting in some consumers paying more, buying a title other than the one they wanted or forgoing a purchase altogether.

The publishers named as defendants settled with the Justice Department long before the case went to court.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Don’t know what to do with old, outdated, unwanted books? Sculptor Guy Laramée sandblasts them into art objects. “Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains,” the Montreal sculptor said on his web site.

Laramée’s work was featured in an exhibition entitled “Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art” at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, S.C.  One Laramée work was a thick book with the top half turned into the face of a miniature mountain. The Wall Street Journal said it was carved with chain saws and grinding tools. “Why pile up so many facts?” Laramée said. “I’m cutting the function of books and transforming them into landscapes.”

In the same exhibition were heads of Buddhas carved by Long-Bin Chen from old telephone books. Having one’s name inside a Buddha’s head is probably a blessing.

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Whither B&N? CEO Resigns Two Weeks After Ominous Quarterly Report.

William Lynch, the architect of Barnes & Noble’s sputtering digital strategy, has stepped down as CEO, stoking speculation of an imminent split between the bookseller’s Nook and retail businesses.

In a statement announcing Lynch’s resignation, the company did not indicate any plans to name a new chief executive. Its CFO Michael P. Huseby has been appointed  CEO of NOOK Media and president of Barnes & Noble, reporting directly to Leonard Riggio, Executive Chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Riggio, who has made an offer to buy B&N’s trade retail business, said in the statement, “the Company is in the process of reviewing its current strategic plan and will provide an update when appropriate.”

Lynch’s departure follows a disastrous quarterly financial report released June 25th that showed losses from its Nook business more than doubled compared with the same period the previous year and its retail store earnings fell by nearly 24%.

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New York Times: Amazon Raising Prices On Books Readers Can’t Find in Bookstores

Having gained a dominant share of the market through deep price cutting, Amazon has begun reducing the amount it discounts some scholarly and small press titles, upsetting publishers and authors who worry the increased prices will hurt sales, David Streitfeld wrote in the New York Times on July 4th.

The piece pointed out that with Borders gone, Barnes & Noble shrinking and many independents shuttered, consumers often have no choice but to buy from Amazon. Stephen Blake Mettee, chairman of the board of the Independent Book Publishers Association, was quoted as saying that Amazon is following a tried and true strategy.

“You lower your prices until the competition is out of the picture, and then you raise your prices and get your money back,” he said.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is actually lowering prices, but declined to comment on specific examples of titles for which the discounts have been reduced. The evidence of Amazon’s price increases, the article acknowledges, is “anecdotal and fragmentary,” but it cites several examples and a marketer for university and independent presses to make the case.

Streitfeld followed his article with a blog post about the subject in which he looked back to the days when “bookselling was a local activity” and major cities would have multiple independents. He also reminded us what’s a stake when we talk about a diverse literary marketplace.

The hippie, black and women’s movements of the 1960s would not have been so successful in challenging authority without the bookstores, which made their ideas widely available and sympathetic in a way that television, for instance, did not.

Noting that most publishers were reluctant to speak with him for the story, Streitfeld quoted Melville House’s Dennis Loy Johnson at length.

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New Books by Members

This week’s recent and upcoming releases by Authors Guild members include titles by Kathi Appelt, Louis Begley, Peter Biskind, Susan Choi, John Clement, Patrick A. Durantou, Susan Fletcher, Stacy Horn, Allison Lynn, Jonathan Santlofer, Vint Virga, and Ben H. Winters. Titles under the jump.

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Penguin Random House a Reality

The Random House-Penguin merger became official this week, creating a mega-publisher the Authors Guild estimates controls at least 35 percent of the U.S. trade book market for fiction and narrative nonfiction.

The changes that most affect authors–namely any editorial layoffs, canceling of contracts or cutting of imprints that typically accompany mergers–haven’t come to light yet. But the company has announced its new leadership team, with Markus Dohle, formerly CEO of Random House, serving as CEO of the new Penguin Random House and John Makinson, international head of the pre-merger Penguin, serving as chairman.

Dohle also holds the title of U.S. CEO of the new company, leading a team of top executives that come heavily from the Random House side of the merger.

When the companies announced plans to merge last fall, Guild president Scott Turow said that the move appeared to be motivated more by concerns over industry-wide consolidation than economies of scale and pointed out the repercussions for authors.

“Survival of the largest appears to be the message here.

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Appellate Court: Class Certification Ruling in Google Books Case Puts Cart Before Horse

Class certification is premature in the Google mass books digitization case, says a federal appellate court. Fair use has to be decided first.

In the latest twist in the litigations over Google’s library-scanning project, The Second Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday vacated Judge Denny Chin’s class certification ruling* of last May in Authors Guild v. Google.  The appellate court said that resolution of the fair use issues needed to come first since it would help determine whether “the commonality of plaintiffs’ injuries, the typicality of their claims, and the predominance of common questions of law or fact” merited treating the lawsuit as a class action.

In other words, if Google’s fair use defense requires a book-by-book analysis, then this would weigh against class certification. If a fair use ruling can be made more broadly, then judicial economy is more likely to weigh on the side of class certification.

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