NYT’s Report on David Mamet’s Self-Published Book Heightens Debate

David Mamet’s decision to self-publish his latest book through a new service offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, adds fuel to the debate raging over whether authors will do better on their own than with a traditional publishing house.

“The announcement by ICM and Mr. Mamet suggests that self-publishing will begin to widen its net and become attractive also to more established authors.” Leslie Kaufman wrote last week in the New York Times.

The news has drawn hundreds of responses from bloggers, authors and others, including bookseller Marion Abbott, who in the Sunday edition of the Times warned about the perils of self-publishing.

The latest post by Huffpo blogger Julie Gerstenblatt offers a cautionary tale that echoes Abbott’s sentiments.

A far more optimistic picture comes from Jon R. Anderson of the Navy Times, who on Friday urged service members to get their story out, writing, “While self-publishing used to bear the vanity press stigma… independent publishing is quickly becoming the preferred road to readers for many authors.”

Self-publishing has indeed borne a stigma, even though it has a history to be proud of. Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” Irma S. Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking,” and Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” are prominent examples of self-published works from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Is that stigma now gone? Maybe not, but the stigma seems to be fading as the economics of self-publishing improve for some authors.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

Scott Turow on Piracy, Lowball E-Royalties & Literary Culture

In a New York Times Op-Ed today, Scott Turow takes on the threat posed by book piracy, e-lending and traditional publishers’ lockstep, 25% ebook royalties to the health of our literary culture. Check it out: The Slow Death of the American Author

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright, E-Books

B&N vs. S&S: Keep Authors Out of It

There’s an ongoing dispute over retail terms between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. Ebook sales terms seem to be a key battlefield, but accounts of the dispute are conflicting.

Accounts of the tactics are conflicting as well. It seems clear that B&N has pared back its orders of Simon & Schuster titles — as a story posted by Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) this afternoon confirms. We haven’t been able to confirm, however, that B&N is taking punitive action directed at Simon & Schuster or whether it’s cutting back on book orders generally. It seems unlikely that B&N would be cutting back generally on new titles (it still has many, many stores to fill with books, and new titles are the lifeblood of retailing), but odder things have happened.

We strongly condemned Amazon three years ago when it removed the “buy buttons” from nearly all of Macmillan’s books in an attempt to pressure the publisher into rescinding an announced change to its ebook sales terms. We said then that those “hardest and most unfairly hit are authors with new books published by Macmillan that are in their prime sales period.” See “The Right Battle at the Right Time,” Feb. 2, 2010.

Our views haven’t changed: targeting a publisher by punishing authors as their new books hit the marketplace is an over-the-top tactic that a retailer with B&N’s market clout should never employ. A new book makes or breaks in the first few weeks after it hits bookstores.

Publishers and retailers have fought over sales terms forever.  We hope that reports of B&N singling out new Simon & Schuster titles prove to be unfounded.  New books deserve a fair shot at reaching their readers.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship

Condé Nast query: What makes a rights grab?

Condé Nast’s new boilerplate contract for freelancers, under which it acquires a free 12-month right to option dramatic and multimedia rights to articles appearing in its magazines and then, if it exercises that option, shares less than half the usual amount with the author, has gotten us thinking: what makes a rights grab? After all, there are lots of terms in a typical freelance journalism contract or book publishing contract that wouldn’t be there if the two parties had roughly equal bargaining power. (We’ll name two from trade book contracts: ebook royalties at 25% of net proceeds and any noncompete clause that isn’t reciprocal.)

So, when does a contractual term cross the line and become a rights grab? Breaking with industry practice is clearly one thing to consider. A second is whether the publisher is seeking to control rights that aren’t the main point of the contract. A third — a biggie — is compensation: is the publisher taking rights at bargain-basement rates? Another way to look at that is whether a journalist or book author with greater bargaining power would find the deal acceptable.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship

Condé Nast Moves to Seize, Lowball Freelancers’ Film/TV Rights

Breaking with longstanding industry practices, Condé Nast is seeking to cut itself in on its writers’ potential film and television deals. In the process, it would slice writers’ share of potential film and television income to freelance works appearing in its magazines by more than 50%. Its new boilerplate contract — introduced last year — would give the company a free, exclusive 12-month right to option dramatic and multimedia rights. Under the contract, Condé Nast could choose to extend that option by up to 24 months for a modest sum.

Should Condé Nast exercise the option, the writer would, under boilerplate terms, be paid just 1% of the film or tv production budget. Negotiated film and tv agreements typically pay the author 2.5% or more of the production budget.

Agents and writers are pushing back, with some success. Since Condé Nast owns such leading publications as Bon Appétit, GQ, The New Yorker, Self, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Wired, among others, authors with significant negotiating clout are affected. Reportedly, some of those authors have been able to substantially alter or eliminate the option terms of the new boilerplate agreement.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Royalties

Scott Turow on Penguin Random House

We’re back in business: power kicked in for our office Saturday morning; our email server came online late that night.

Here’s our storm-delayed member alert on last Monday’s unsettling announcement that Random House and Penguin, the two largest trade book publishers in the U.S., are merging.

Although Random House has said that the combination would control 25% of the book market, that appears to significantly understate things. The companies’ share of the U.S. trade book market for fiction and narrative non-fiction likely exceeds 35%. Their share in certain submarkets is no doubt even higher. The merger merits close scrutiny from antitrust officials at the Justice Department or the FTC.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, General

Court Approves Justice Department’s E-Book Proposal, Restoring pre-2010 Status Quo Without an Economic Study

Judge Denise Cote approved the Justice Department’s controversial settlement with three major publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — in a 45-page decision filed yesterday afternoon. The settlement requires the publishers to allow e-book retailers to sell their books at any price, even below cost, so long as the retailer does not lose money over a publisher’s entire e-book list over a 12-month period. The Justice Department had sued five publishers (the others are Penguin and Macmillan) and Apple this spring alleging that they had colluded to introduce “agency pricing” for e-books in 2010 with the launch of the iPad.

The Authors Guild opposed approval of the settlement, believing that the DOJ could address the alleged collusion without requiring three publishers to allow Amazon to resume predatory pricing. Amazon’s predatory pricing — selling bestselling frontlist e-book titles at a loss — had helped the online retailer gain a 90% share of the e-book market by January 2010.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

AG Makes “Friend of the Court” Filing in DOJ Settlement Proceeding

Yesterday, the Authors Guild filed a motion and a proposed amicus brief with the Southern District Court of New York taking issue with the DOJ’s “narrow gauge” view of the book market in its response to the public comments submitted in the U.S. v. Apple, et al litigation.

Proposed Brief

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

Sen. Schumer Op-Ed on E-Book Suit: DOJ should think again

Sen. Charles Schumer, in a strongly worded Wall Street Journal op-ed piece published today, called for the Justice Department to reconsider its e-book antitrust lawsuit, noting that “the suit could wipe out the publishing industry as we know it, making it much harder for young authors to get published.” Sen. Schumer continued:

The suit will restore Amazon to the dominant position atop the e-books market it occupied for years before competition arrived in the form of Apple. If that happens, consumers will be forced to accept whatever prices Amazon sets. All of us will lose the vibrant resources a diverse publishing universe provides. As Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild, has explained, the Justice Department’s suit is “grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture.”

A powerful member of the Senate Judiciary Committee gets it. A bit of welcome news, this hot summer.

The full op-ed is available here.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

Booktalk Nation Preview #2: Judy Blume with Rachel Vail Tonight in Live, National Phone-In Event

Test of Affiliate Program Targeted to Traditional Bookstores

Our second Booktalk Nation event features Judy Blume, who will answer questions about her life and work from Justin Case author Rachel Vail at 7 p.m. EST tonight. The 30-minute national, phone-in event is hosted by R.J. Julia Booksellers of Madison, Connecticut. Readers can sign up for the call at

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Posted in Authorship, Booktalk Nation