When Scott Turow stopped by CBS This Morning last week to promote his new book, Identical, co-anchor Charlie Rose turned the discussion to Turow’s “beef with Amazon,” while Norah O’Donnell brought up his April New York Times piece on “The Slow Death of the American Author.”
Turow said Amazon’s below-cost ebook pricing, “destroys physical bookstores and drives the reading public into the ebook, which of course Amazon dominates. They’re a great competitor and I don’t mind fair operation of the market. I don’t like unfair tactics.”
A Real Southern Alabama Courtroom Drama for “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Museum Blames Harper Lee’s “Greedy Handlers”
An ongoing dispute over the trademark rights to “To Kill a Mockingbird” has a new venue and a sympathetic defendant. Harper Lee’s attorneys filed a trademark infringement suit earlier this month in Mobile, Alabama’s federal district court against the Monroe County Heritage Museum.
According to the complaint, the museum uses tokillamockingbird.com as its web address, touts its building as the model for the novel’s courthouse, and uses the novel to sell unlicensed aprons, hand towels and keychains. Despite the museum’s claim that its purpose is historical, Lee’s attorneys say “its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee’s own renown as one of the nation’s most celebrated authors.”
You know all that talk recently about the resurgence of independent bookstores? It’s true. What you may not have heard as much about is the role being played by those natural allies of booksellers–authors.
Following the success of the ABA’s first Thanks for Shopping Indie campaign in 2012, more booksellers have signed up to participate this year, bringing the number to over 400. The campaign, in which local retailers promote books chosen from a list of bookseller-selected titles, begins on Nov. 30, Small Business Saturday. No coincidence—that’s also when authors will report to work at bookstores around the country for Indies First, the Sherman Alexie brainchild that’s grown into a full-fledged movement.
Late this summer, Alexie posted an open letter to authors asking them to become booksellers for the day. As of yesterday, 270 authors and 225 stores had gone to the ABA’s website to register their plans to participate in Indies First and the number is growing every day, said ABA senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger. And those figures don’t include the authors and booksellers who intend to join in but haven’t registered.
The DOJ’s ebook price-fixing case is entering a new phase as Apple and Simon & Schuster have both filed notices of appeal on Judge Denise Cote’s rulings.
Apple, as expected, filed documents late last week stating that it is appealing the judgment and a court-ordered injunction that puts restrictions on how the tech company operates its ebook store. That includes preventing Apple from entering into contracts with the five largest publishers that limit discounting for two to four years. In other words, no agency pricing.
Separately, S&S filed notice that it intends to appeal the injunction, according to media reports. S&S was one of five publisher defendants in the case, all of which settled with the DOJ before it went to court. The injunction sets a staggered schedule on which Apple may renegotiate its contracts with the five publishers, one every six months after a two-year period.
S&S falls into the middle of the schedule, meaning it won’t be able to renegotiate its contract for three years. Two other publishers will have to wait even longer: Penguin, 42 months; Macmillan four years. So S&S isn’t likely to be the only publisher fighting the injunction.
This summer, the five publisher defendants jointly filed objections to the DOJ’s proposed injunction, claiming it punished them under the guise of putting limits on Apple. Though the measures Cote ultimately handed down were considerably less restrictive, they were still a blow to publishers, which had previously worked out settlement deals that would have allowed them to return sooner to agency pricing.
In a bit of news we’ll interpret as the glass being just over half full, the National Endowment for the Arts says 54.5 % of adult Americans voluntarily (meaning it wasn’t for work or school) read a book in 2012, the same as when the group did its last survey in 2008.
The percentage of people who read at least one “work of literature”–defined as novels, short stories, poetry or plays–ticked down to to 46.9% from 50.2% four years earlier. No surprise, women continue to be the bigger readers of both fiction and nonfiction. While 63.6% of females responding to the survey last year said they’d read at least one book, only 44.7% of males did. Breaking it out to a “work of literature,” 36.9% of men reported reading in 2012, compared with 56.1% of women.
The survey also looks at reading by race, education level and age. Nearly 61% of whites said they’d read a book in 2012, unchanged from 2008, while the percentages of African Americans and Hispanics who read a book ticked up. Among people with advanced degrees, 81.7% had read a book, almost twice the rate of those with just a high school education.
The reading figures are part of a broader report titled Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. That report also found 59% of Americans went to a movie last year and 37% attended a live performance.
Ten months after the ABA and Kobo formed a partnership to help indie bookstores compete with Amazon and other national retailers for ebook sales, booksellers are giving the program mixed reviews, according to Shelf Awareness, which talked to more than 50 merchants.
“Among the positives: booksellers like being able to give customers a digital choice and offer e-reading devices; many aspects of the program are an improvement over the old Google partnership; and Kobo has been more responsive than Google to booksellers’ concerns. Among the negatives: the low margins on Kobo devices and e-books; difficulties for some customers in designating indies through which to buy e-books; and erratic customer service.”
Booksellers say the Kobo name is not widely known and that customers who frequent independents tend to prefer paper books. Sales vary widely between stores, with independents in areas with commuters, students and younger customers doing a brisker business in the Kobo devices and ebooks.
Some booksellers also complain about the low margins, including one who is quoted anonymously saying, ”I need to sell about 15 to 20 e-books to make the same profit from one hardcover. I’d make more money by putting out a tip jar.”
But ABA CEO Oren Teicher says the program isn’t about profit margins, but about keeping customers at a time when readers want both print and digital books.
In court before Judge Denny Chin Monday, attorneys for the Authors Guild argued that Google’s mass digitization of copyrighted material serves primarily to enhance the company’s search capabilities, giving it an advantage over competitors, and should not be considered fair use.
The question of fair use is pivotal in the long-running legal battle over Google’s Library Project, and almost certain to determine whether Judge Chin grants summary judgment to the Guild or Google, or allow the case to proceed to trial.
On Monday, Chin did not rule on the issue, but did pose a number of questions related to Google’s defense that its scanning of more than 20 million books is transformative, and that the project benefits society and may drive consumers to buy books.
Guild attorneys agreed that the project may have some benefits, but said they are outweighed by the need to protect authors from the wholesale copyright infringement of Google’s unauthorized book scanning. They pointed out that Google could have licensed the material, but did not.
They also reiterated the argument that it is the role of Congress, not a judge, to decide whether US copyright law should be revised to allow for such unauthorized digitization of books. Chin expressed skepticism that Congress could act fast enough to resolve the issue in a reasonable amount of time.
Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken has posted his first two sets of medical records pertaining to his ALS diagnosis: results of MRI, CT-myelogram, and x-ray reports from December 2012 through April 2013, and results from blood tests done this year. The reports appear at his n=2 blog, which he launched on Friday as the Guild sent out a press release announcing he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Aiken says that he expects to have other pertinent medical records posted later today, including electrodiagnostic reports and neurologists’ evaluations of the tests.
He also says he’s still the boss, and we have to get back to normal blogging, pronto. The Guild has a 100-year history of not reporting medical news to members, he says.
Aiken also says we should tell people that we do welcome self-published authors into our membership, so long as they earn at least $500 in writing income in 18 months. He says the Guild truly doesn’t care whether a writer’s income is filtered through a publisher, the whole point is to provide professional support to those who earn at least part of their livelihoods through writing books and articles. He says we should post a link to our application form and a separate link to our eligibility requirements, even though they’re kind of hard to decipher.
He says he’d been intending to get to that, but things got crazy busy for him lately, what with Google, HathiTrust, Penguin and Random House getting hitched, developments regarding the Justice Department’s cavity search of book publishing, Washington’s moves toward significant copyright reform, getting word out on how Obamacare affects our members across the country, and all.
Aiken says his condition is “oddly liberating,” and that he feels good. (Knock wood.)
Executive Director of US Authors Guild Has ALS. Aiken Says Early-Stage Symptoms in Remission with Steroids; Will Make Medical Records Public
Paul Aiken, the long-time executive director of the Authors Guild, announced today that he has early-stage Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a fatal illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US and Motor Neurone Disease in the UK. There is no known cure nor effective treatment for the disease, which kills an estimated 125,000 globally each year.
Aiken, 54, said his ALS symptoms in his legs went into remission after he was treated on August 7 with the fourth in a series of epidural steroid injections he received for lower back and leg pain. Just two days earlier, doctors at Weill Cornell Peripheral Neuropathy Center had found fasciculations, involuntary muscular twitches that are symptomatic of ALS, in his legs, arm, back and tongue during EMG tests.
Aiken said that, separately, an emergency room doctor at St. Luke’s Hospital had given him oral steroids to combat a severe allergic reaction early in the morning on May 23rd, shortly after his first symptom, slurred speech, arose. Aiken’s wife noticed that his speech improved markedly after two doses of steroids.
“It was dumb luck, nothing else,” Aiken said,
It’s official: Americans can now compete for a Man Booker Prize.
The Booker Prize foundation today announced it was opening up the award to any novel written originally in English and published in the U.K., regardless of the author’s nationality. After 45 years in which only authors from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries were eligible to win, the foundation said in a written statement that it was time to expand the competition.
“We are embracing the freedom of English in its versatility, in its vigour, in its vitality and in its glory wherever it may be. We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries.”
The long-rumored change is controversial, to say the least, and drew criticism even before today’s announcement. The Guardian on Monday published a story quoting author Linda Grant, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2008 for her novel The Clothes on Their Backs.
“‘There are two career-changing prizes, the Booker and the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer has this big market in the US, and UK authors are closed off from that. If the Booker is open to US authors it will create a huge imbalance. UK writers will have more competition for a career-changing prize, whereas US authors will have a new prize.’”
Jim Crace, who is on this year’s shortlist for his novel Harvest, was quoted Sunday by the Independent:
“If you open the Booker prize to all people writing in the English language it would be a fantastic overview of English language literature but it would lose a focus. I’m very fond of the sense of the Commonwealth. There’s something in there that you would lose if you open it up to American authors.”
Anticipating that the change could send submissions skyrocketing, the foundation is also establishing a somewhat complicated cap on entries based on a publisher’s previous longlisted titles. The foundation expressed confidence that the new rules will make the process, “slightly less challenging in terms of reading than the 151 books the judges considered this year.”