General

Macmillan Strikes Deal with Amazon, but “Irony Prospers in the Digital Age”

Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced yesterday in a letter to authors and agents that Macmillan has reached a multiyear agreement with Amazon for the sale of both print books and e-books. Under the deal, e-books will be sold under the agency model, which allows the publisher to set its own prices and avoid Amazon’s strategic discounting of key titles. This will allow Macmillan to sell books above Amazon’s artificially deflated prices, potentially leading to more income for authors, but it leaves in place the inequitable 25% of net proceeds royalty rate that Macmillan regularly offers authors on e-book sales. The agreement will take effect of January 5, 2015.

The deal makes Macmillan the third major publisher to announce a new agreement with Amazon after the expiration of the publishers’ settlement agreements with the U.S. government, which banned the agency model and required each publisher to allow retailers to discount e-books for a defined period. These agreements, known as “consent decrees”—whose durations were staggered at six-month intervals (Macmillan’s ended December 18)—were settlements of the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice accusing five major publishers and Apple of conspiring to fix e-book prices in the lead-up to Apple’s 2010 iPad launch. After the publishers each settled, the case continued as U.S. v. Apple.

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New Sales Models Prove There’s More than One Way to Sell a Book

A page one headline in the New York Times’ business section caught our eye this morning: “Amazon Not as Unstoppable as It Might Appear.” The article describes Amazon’s susceptibility to competition from start-ups in the retail sector. We’ve noticed a similar trend in the publishing industry. Now there are more—and more inventive—ways than ever to buy books without logging in to Amazon. We’d like to highlight a few of them. In our view, the more ways there are to get our books to readers, the better things are for us all.

One of the major developments has been publishers’ experimentation with selling directly. Last week Hachette rolled out a new sales program, letting readers purchase select titles from the publisher by clicking a “buy” button embedded in an author’s Twitter message. The program pairs books with limited edition collectibles: it began last Thursday when Amanda Palmer announced in a tweet that the first 100 people to buy her new release, The Art of Asking, would get a signed manuscript draft page. The program also includes astronaut Chad Hadfield’s book You Are Here—accompanied by an outer-space photograph of the Greek island of Corfu—and an offering from the satirical paper The Onion. So far, these are the only books slated for inclusion in the program.

While most major publishers sell directly nowadays, HarperCollins has distinguished itself by sweetening the deal for authors. In October, HarperCollins launched an e-commerce platform that lets readers buy books straight from its web page—sans bookstore, sans Internet retail giant. Kudos to Harper for passing on some profit to authors when it cut out the middleman: writers who offer their books through the program receive an additional 10% net royalty on e-book, print and audio sales. This applies even when authors sell the books through their own web page.

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Authors Guild Opposes Google’s Fair Use Claim in Federal Appeals Court

Reporters, observers and lawyers lined up early Wednesday afternoon to guarantee themselves a seat in Courtroom 1703 of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in downtown New York City. The case of the day was the oral argument in the appeal of the Authors Guild’s ongoing copyright infringement case against Google. The Guild is appealing a November 2013 district court ruling that Google’s unauthorized copying of millions of copyrighted books was a fair use of those works.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit spent over an hour and a half hearing lawyers’ arguments while peppering them with questions.

Paul Smith, a recent addition to the Guild’s legal team, argued for the Authors Guild. Smith, who has appeared in the Supreme Court fifteen times and in scores of appellate courts over a span of three decades, will also help the Guild position the case for an appeal to the Supreme Court, if that becomes necessary. He is perhaps best known for successfully arguing the landmark gay rights case Lawrence v. Texas.

The issue before the court today was whether Google’s scanning and snippet display of millions of books from the collections of leading research libraries, without regard to copyright status and without authorization or compensation, was fair use. The lower court had found that it was fair use and that Google therefore owed the authors nothing for the use. Fair use is a defense to an accusation of copyright infringement; it permits a work to be used in ways that otherwise would be considered infringing, in order to enable socially beneficial activities such as commentary, parody, reporting and teaching.

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Ursula K. Le Guin Stuns with National Book Awards Speech

The book world is abuzz today after Ursula K. Le Guin delivered a tour de force address at the National Book Awards ceremony in New York City last night. Le Guin, who has been publishing consistently since the ’60s, received a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She shared the laurels with “all the writers that were excluded from literature for so long: my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction.”

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Copyright and Free Speech Fund Appeal

The following letter was recently mailed to members of the Authors Guild:

We need your help, and we need it right away. In recent years, the Authors Guild has taken legal action in a number of cases of crucial importance to the copyright community. These cases have included fighting Google Book Search’s commercial scanning of over 14 million books and its display of portions of those works, as well as the shared repository created by academic libraries from those scans – all without any payment. We at the Authors Guild have fought hard in these and other litigations, because we’re committed to ensuring that writers can continue to make a living in the digital economy.

Our litigation has cost millions of dollars. We can’t continue to bear these costs alone.  In order to defray these expenses and provide more funds for member support and daily operations, we’ve created the Copyright and Free Speech Fund as part of the Authors Guild Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity that supports the Authors Guild’s advocacy efforts. With the help of your tax-deductible contribution, we’ll ensure that copyright protection and creators’ rights continue to have a voice in our legal system.

Our advocacy benefits authors around the world. On June 10, for example, we won an $18 million settlement in our class-action lawsuit over the use of literary works in electronic databases—the fruition of fourteen years of litigation. All funds from the settlement will go directly to authors who have seen their work infringed upon.

Your contribution to the Fund is essential to keeping our advocacy efforts strong and vital. Our historic copyright infringement lawsuit, Authors Guild v. Google, entered its tenth year on September 20, and we intend to fight this issue all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. We will argue the case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, December 3. Taking it to the Supreme Court could cost nearly one million dollars. We’ve also filed briefs in other actions to protect authors’ contracts, copyrights, and their ability to make a living from writing. We want to be able to continue supporting similar cases in the future, but it is expensive.

Unfortunately, litigating against large organizations that jeopardize authors’ rights has become a necessity in today’s digital world. Regardless of the expense, we can’t give up in this battle.

We enclose a form with instructions on how to make a donation. We hope you’ll support our efforts to support you.

Posted in General

Rasenberger to Succeed Aiken as Authors Guild Executive Director

NEW YORK, NY, October 9, 2014 — Mary Rasenberger, a six-year Copyright Office and Library of Congress veteran and partner at the media law firm Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams and Sheppard, will succeed Paul Aiken as Authors Guild Executive Director on November 3rd. Rasenberger’s selection follows a national search by a committee of the Authors Guild Council, the Guild’s governing board. Her candidacy received the unanimous support of the Council. Aiken will work for the Guild as a consultant for the next two years.

“Mary brings with her exactly what the Guild needs today,” said President Roxana Robinson. “She’s a proven leader, a brilliant copyright lawyer and—especially important to us—a devotee of the written word.”

“I’m delighted to hand the reins to someone of Mary’s caliber,” said Paul Aiken. “I’ve known her for years. She’s energetic, very smart, and knows her way around Washington. She’s a perfect fit for the job. And I have a new cause,” said Aiken, who announced a year ago that he has ALS.

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Along Publishers Row

By Campbell Geeslin

Words are being replaced. Our joined-together alphabetic symbols for absolutely everything are giving way to a growing tribe of little pictures.

Jessica Bennett, a multimedia journalist, wrote in The New York Times, “The roots of smiley faces and emotions go back to the 1880s, but the story of the emoji, those little pictorial icons on your cell phone, began in Japan in the mid-1990s when it was added as a special feature to a brand of pagers popular with teenagers.” Apple adopted it in 2011.

And it’s spreading. “Emoji was crowned as this year’s top-trending word by the Global Language Monitor, and it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Well, I think I can promise that you will never, ever see a smiling, frowning or tear-streaked little face in this blog. No wine glasses or pizza slices. Just words.

A POET’S JOB: Edward Hirsch is author of a book-length elegy, Gabriel. Alec Wilkinson’s profile of the poet appeared in the August 4th New Yorker.

Hirsch grew up in Skokie, Ill., and he is quoted: “Why would I have Skokie in a poem? But you become resigned. Your job is to write about the life you actually have.”

A LESSON: Joyce Carol Oates was editor of Prison Noir, a book of 15 stories written by U.S. prison inmates. It’s due out in September.

Oates told PW: “Serious fiction always breaks down the barriers between people—allows us to see, think, and feel as others do. We learn to sympathize with others unlike ourselves. We learn to feel pity—and terror—even to recognize hopelessness as an illuminating experience. . . .”

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Along Publishers Row

By Campbell Geeslin

It’s vacation time, and Emma Straub’s new novel is The Vacationers. The Guardian took note of the season by inviting her to list some favorite vacations in fiction.

Straub wrote, “I’ve always liked taking my fictional characters on vacation. As in life, I think it shakes characters out of their routines, which in turn leads to more zippy contradictions and conflicts and, yes, sex.”

Among Straub’s selections were:
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, “a portrait of a group of friends, starting one summer at camp and stretching out over the following several decades.” Choices are made that “set the course for the rest of their lives.”
Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, an American takes a trip to Paris in the 1950s and discovers “that Paris can’t solve all one’s problems.”
Courtney Sullivan’s Maine, in which a family’s cabin is the setting for three generations of women. The landscape is so lovingly described that “you will curse your own ancestors for not thinking to purchase a similar parcel of land.”
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad has an African safari with “complicated family dynamics, irritating fellow tourists, and a proper animal attack: all the trappings of an excellent holiday.”

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Bill Gates Hails Book by Former President of the Authors Guild

On Wednesday, The New York Times “Bits” blog reported on the surprising resurrection of John Brooks’ Business Adventures, a 1969 book long out of print. On his Web site, Bill Gates called it “The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read” and added that he still has the copy Warren Buffett lent him. Behind the scenes, Gates helped coordinate an effort that led to the book’s republication and instant bestsellerdom.

As it happens, John Brooks, who died in 1993, was not only the “masterful storyteller” Gates hailed, but also a tremendously influential figure in the history of the Authors Guild. He served as our President from 1975-1979, and before that as Vice President and Treasurer. In a time of upheaval in the publishing industry—consolidation among publishers, new copyright legislation, changes in tax law—Brooks made sure the Guild was one of the strongest voices defending American writers.

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Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors

The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate. The recent clash between Amazon and Hachette Book Group has called attention to the contrasting viewpoints of traditionally-published and self-published authors. During this dispute the Guild has spoken out against Amazon’s tactics—which needlessly imperil the livelihoods of authors who are not involved in the negotiations—while also challenging the major publishing houses to revisit the parsimonious stance they’ve taken on authors’ e-book royalties.

The Guild recognizes all authors’ rights to make a living from their books and to pursue the most suitable audience for them. It is a sign of the strength and diversity of our membership that two of our Council Members, Douglas Preston and CJ Lyons, have taken different public stands in defense of serious authors.

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