We all know that books make the best gifts. So do our friends at the American Booksellers Association, who have brought back a winning initiative this holiday season to help spread the word in support of independent bookstores.
That’s right, Indies First returns to your local independent on November 29, otherwise known as Small Business Saturday (think of it as the grassroots Black Friday). The brainchild of Guild Council member and self-confessed “book nerd” Sherman Alexie, Indies First recruits authors to spend Thanksgiving Saturday hand-selling books at their favorite independent bookshops. Last year—its first—over 1,100 authors participated in the program.
This year Indies First will be helmed by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Take a look at their letter about the project here. Per Gaiman and Palmer, directions are as follows:
Choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and agree on what you are going to do that day. If you have a website, put that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button and the IndieBound button. If you prefer, you can sign up on the author registry so that a store can contact you.
We wish everyone involved the absolute best. There’s still time to sign up on the author registry. While you’re at it, take a look at IndieBound’s map to see participating stores. Hundreds of authors have signed up so far, including David Baldacci, Roz Chast, and Jeanne Birdsall.
Even if you can’t participate, remember that books make great gifts. Support your local independent this holiday season.
In her first official appearance as Executive Director of the Authors Guild, Mary Rasenberger traveled to Washington, D.C. last Thursday and presented a speech to the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to protecting the rights of creators.
Rasenberger’s speech was part of a panel co-hosted by the Authors Guild and aimed at giving the Congressional group a behind-the-scenes look at “a book’s passage from manuscript to marketplace.” The panel consisted of authors, editors, and publishers.
In her speech, Rasenberger focused on the “urgent state” of authorship today. “Even authors who made a living writing books for decades now need to find alternative sources of income,” she told the assembly. “This means they write less—and, in some cases, not at all. Fewer professional authors means fewer types of books that might take years of research and writing. These are precisely the kinds of books that further the knowledge and learning that copyright is meant to foster.”
This morning, after a nasty and very public corporate stalemate, Amazon and Hachette jointly announced they have come to terms. Their new multiyear contract will allow Hachette to set its own e-book prices, but that arrangement will be tempered by “financial incentives” for Hachette to keep those prices low, according to the companies’ joint statement.
The dispute became big news in the book world this May, when it became known that Amazon was purposefully chilling Hachette authors’ book sales as a way to pressure Hachette to adopt the retailer’s preferred terms. The most immediate beneficiaries of the détente are Hachette authors, whose books will once again receive standard treatment from Amazon, their visibility and shipping time restored. In a letter to Hachette authors and agents, CEO Michael Pietsch promised that “Hachette titles will be restored as soon as possible to normal availability on Amazon, will be available for pre-order, and will be included in promotions on the site.”
Many in the book world—including the Authors Guild—expressed disbelief when it was announced in March 2013 that Amazon and other private companies (including Google, as it turns out) were angling to purchase the Internet domain name “.book,” among other generic domain names. That dismay was substantiated yesterday when it became official that Amazon won “.book” at auction—for a cool $10 million, according to reports.
The auction was hosted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages domain names—those letters that come at the end of a web address, such as “.com” or “.org.” We have long objected to ICANN’s decision to auction generic Internet domain names to the highest bidder. As former Guild President Scott Turow stated in a March 2013 open letter to ICANN, “Placing such generic domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive, allowing already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power.”
In addition to remaining concerned about ICANN’s auctioning of generic domain names, the Authors Guild is dismayed that Amazon won the auction. “The ‘.book’ domain should not be owned by a for-profit company that is in a position to use it for its competitive advantage,” said the Guild’s Executive Director, Mary Rasenberger, “much less by Amazon, which we believe is already a monopolistic force in the publishing marketplace.”
Last week, concluding the final chapter of the three-year legal dispute between HarperCollins and digital publisher Open Road over the e-book rights to Jean Craighead George’s 1971 young-adult novel Julie of the Wolves, a court rejected HarperCollins’ attempt to recover over $1 million in lawyers’ fees from its opponent. But not everything came up roses for Open Road: the court awarded HarperCollins $30,000 in damages and also blocked Open Road from distributing its e-book edition.
This phase of the litigation—HarperCollins v. Open Road—came on the heels of a March 2014 ruling that Open Road’s e-book edition of Julie infringed on HarperCollins’ right to publish electronic versions of George’s classic. At issue was whether language in the 1971 contract between George and her publisher granted HarperCollins exclusive electronic rights. Complicating the interpretation of the contract was this little thorn: there was no market for e-books when the contract was signed. The court found, however, that the contract’s “forward-looking reference to technologies ‘now known or hereafter invented’ [was] sufficiently broad to draw within its ambit e-book publication.”
Many in the industry had wondered whether this case had the potential to chip away at the precedent of the watershed authors’ victory in 2001’s Random House v. Rosetta Books, which held that pre-digital-era contracts where an author grants her publisher the right to publish a work “in print book form” or even “in book form” with no mention of electronic rights should be interpreted to reserve electronic rights to the author.
Simon & Schuster and Amazon have reached a multi-year contract covering both print and digital books, reports Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
This is the first deal Amazon has struck with any of the five publishers who settled with the government after having been charged with e-book price-fixing in 2012. Notably, Simon & Schuster has negotiated an agreement that “preserves the basic construct and terms of agency [pricing],” according to a source who spoke to Publishers Lunch (subscription required). This will allow the publisher to set the prices of its e-books in most cases, as Amazon’s right to discount will be confined to specific situations, according to an Amazon source quoted in the same report.
Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said in a letter to authors that, although deals like this are not usually announced, “the high level of public speculation over the status of these talks made it important to let you know about this positive development.” She refers, of course, to the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute, in which Hachette authors have found themselves held hostage by the e-tailer.
As the standoff between Amazon and the publishing giant Hachette enters its sixth month in the spotlight, the conversation continues—and it continues to heat up.
In the wake of news that the Authors United group, in partnership with the Authors Guild, was preparing its third letter, this one asking for an antitrust investigation of Amazon, Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson appeared on the PBS program NewsHour on September 29, telling host Jeffrey Brown that Amazon’s targeting of Hachette writers’ incomes is “unacceptable.”
When asked if there’s a good guy in this dispute, Robinson elaborated:
The big difference is [Amazon’s] attitude towards books and towards writers. What publishers do is invest in books. They pay advances to writers. They recognize the fact that it may take years to write a good book—for a biographer, for a writer of history—and they invest in the book. Amazon doesn’t do that, Amazon doesn’t do editorial tasks, they don’t take a position on the intellectual merit of a book, so in terms of supporting our endeavor, and our intellectual property, there’s a big difference between these two companies.
The Authors Guild’s mission, since its founding in 1912, has been to support working writers.
The Guild has consistently opposed Amazon’s recent and ruthless tactics of directly targeting Hachette authors, which have made these authors into helpless victims in a business dispute between two big corporations. This action has caused thousands of writers to see a significant drop in their royalty checks. The Authors Guild challenges this threat to the literary ecosystem, one that jeopardizes the individual livelihoods of authors.
The Guild started its own initiative to invite governmental scrutiny of Amazon’s outsize market share and anticompetitive practices in the publishing industry. Last summer the Guild prepared a White Paper on Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct, circulating it to the United States Department of Justice and other government entities. As a result of our request for the initiation of an investigation of Amazon, we hosted a meeting with the DOJ in our offices on August 1 so that a group of authors could make their case directly to the government, as the Wall Street Journal reported today (subscription required).
The Guild has been working closely with the grassroots group Authors United—founded by Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston—which will be making another request to the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for potential antitrust violations.
Our mission is to protect and support working writers. When a retailer, which sells close to half the books in the country, deliberately suppresses the works of certain authors, those authors are harmed, and we speak out. We will continue to oppose any business tactics, from publishers or retailers, that interfere with working writers’ ability to present their products in a fair marketplace and to flourish within their chosen field. Our goal is to ensure that the markets for books and ideas remain both vigorous and free.
The Amazon-Hachette conflict returned to the news this week, with two Authors Guild members playing prominent roles. Monday brought news that Authors United, the grassroots group formed this summer to support writers caught in the middle of the Amazon-Hachette dispute, unveiled its second initiative: an open letter to Amazon’s board of directors. The group, founded by Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston, but unaffiliated with the Guild, has grown to 1,100 authors.
Following this announcement, on Tuesday morning Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson appeared on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop” to discuss the potential effects of the letter and whether Amazon’s poor treatment of authors has endangered its reputation with consumers. Robinson argued that Amazon’s “targeting” of writers during its dust-up with Hachette threatens to erode the public’s confidence that Amazon is a author- and reader-friendly company. “People who buy books often tend to be people of conscience, and they recognize what Amazon is doing and they don’t like it,” Robinson said. “It’s very easy to find another source of books.”
The broadcast became heated over the question of whether books are products like any other in the marketplace. Robinson’s tablemate on the program, Bloomberg Contributing Editor Paul Kedrosky, took issue with Robinson’s claim that “a book is not like a brick.” He proceeded to mock authors’ conceptions of themselves as “special snowflakes.” Robinson took issue with the demeaning phrase, and then defended writers as “creators of serious intellectual property that support our culture and have done so for thousands of years.”
Last week in federal court, the stock-photo licensing company Getty Images filed a massive copyright infringement suit against Microsoft that could potentially shed light on the issues being litigated in our historic copyright case, Authors Guild v. Google. But unlike Google, which has never so much as interrupted the practices we dispute, Microsoft responded by at least temporarily removing the software at the heart of Getty’s complaint.
On Thursday, Getty accused Microsoft of infringement and asked the court to compel the tech company to stop offering its Bing Image Widget, which allows web publishers to display and arrange unlicensed images from Bing Image Search on their websites. Microsoft responded on Friday afternoon by removing the beta version of the offending image portal.
Getty’s entire business consists of the licensing of stock photos, both offline and on. If Microsoft is allowed to freely provide copyrighted images to web publishers, Getty contends, its Internet revenue streams will dry up, and the injury will be “incalculable.” “In effect,” Getty’s court filing states, Microsoft “has turned the entirety of the world’s online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed ‘clip art’ collection . . . all without seeking permission from the owners of copyrights in those images.”