We want to share with you an open letter on the Amazon-Hachette, written by Richard Russo, novelist and co-Vice President of the Authors Guild.
The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life. While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age, only the willfully blind refuse to acknowledge that authorship is imperiled on many fronts. True, not all writers are equally impacted. Some authors still make fortunes through traditional publishing, and genre writers (both traditionally published and independently published) appear to be doing better than writers of nonfiction and “literary” mid-list fiction. (The Guild has members in all of these categories.) But there’s evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that as a species we are significantly endangered. In the UK, for instance, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar.
In an attempt to coax authors and public opinion to its side in its ongoing dispute with Hachette Book Group, Amazon has proposed that both parties give Hachette authors all e-book revenue from sales on Amazon as long as the stalemate lasts.
The offer was made to Hachette yesterday, after it was sent to a small group of writers and agents, among them Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson, who dismissed it as illusory. “If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time,” she told the New York Times. But, she continued, the proposal “doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this.” Hachette also saw through the offer, calling it “baloney.”
Is the groundswell of anti-Amazon sentiment finally getting to the retailer? Guild Council member Douglas Preston’s open letter to Amazon, signed by hundreds of high-profile authors, has been getting its fair share of press in recent days. On the other hand, authors who self-publish through Amazon have started their own petition supporting the bookseller on Change.org.
The bottom line, according to Robinson, is that this dispute must be resolved in a manner that protects authors’ livelihoods. “What writers want is a long-term healthy publishing ecosystem,” she said, “not a temporary windfall.”
In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson ventured an answer to one of the thorniest questions faced by writers of fiction. “Who owns the story,” she asks, “the person who lives it or the person who writes it?”
Since authors must draw on the stories of others, they are open to charges of exploitation. Robinson recalls once hearing a critic say, of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Stowe had no right to write about the black experience. Drawing on her own experience writing about a young male Marine in the novel Sparta, Robinson reaches a different conclusion, arguing that “it’s empathy”—not exploitation—“that allows a writer to feel her way into someone else’s experience.”
“A writer is like a tuning fork: We respond when we’re struck by something. The thing is to pay attention, to be ready for radical empathy. If we empty ourselves of ourselves we’ll be able to vibrate in synchrony with something deep and powerful.”
See the entire opinion piece here.
Novelist and Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston has gathered a grassroots opposition to Amazon; his open letter to the bookseller is currently catching wildfire among the authorial community.
The letter calls on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without incurring any more collateral damage to authors and readers. “No bookseller,” Preston writes, “should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.”
Preston began circulating the letter two weeks ago, hoping to find a dozen fellow authors to add their signatures. Publishers Weekly reports that the list of supporters—still growing—had snowballed to over 300 by this morning, and includes such luminaries as Stephen King, Scott Turow, Nora Roberts, and James Patterson.
Preston, who hasn’t yet sent the letter to Amazon, is still collecting signatures. To add your name to the list, send Doug an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a 6-3 decision hailed by copyright proponents and the creative industries, the Supreme Court held today that Aereo, a subscription service that allows users to watch television programs over the Internet mere seconds after they are actually broadcast, violates copyright holders’ exclusive right to “publicly perform” those programs.
The case, American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, was brought by a coalition of television networks and other industry groups. But the decision resonates beyond the broadcasting industry, reinforcing the bedrock copyright principle that authors and other rightsholders are entitled to compensation for uses of their works.
Apple has come to terms with 33 U.S. states and the class of individual consumers who sued the corporation as a result of its e-book pricing agreements with five major publishers. In that class action lawsuit, which was set to go to trial on July 14, the states and consumers were seeking up to $840 million in damages from Apple. The precise terms of the settlement—which is awaiting final court approval—have not been made public.
This settlement stems from the April 2012 U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit accusing Apple and five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster) of working behind the scenes to fix e-book prices by adopting the “agency” pricing model. Agency pricing would have allowed publishers to set the price of e-books, sidestepping the pricing traps set by Amazon, whose dominance in the digital and online book markets haunted every corner of that case. We’ve long maintained that the DOJ’s focus on Apple and the publishers ignored, and even sanctioned, Amazon’s anti-competitive conduct.
In a remarkable move, Amazon released a statement yesterday defending its slow-walking of Hachette Book Group titles. The normally tight-lipped corporation broke its silence amid a barrage of press—including Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson’s appearance on the Bloomberg TV program “Market Makers”—concerning its ploy to pressure Hachette into accepting unfavorable contract terms.
by Campbell Geeslin
If, at the beach this summer, the water is too cold, critic Janet Maslin suggests, choose “something else to dive into.” In Sunday’s New York Times she wrote that “we have entered the fun season with the sandy nickname, the one known for books impossible to put down.” Her articles about beach books are an annual event.
This summer? “If there’s one overriding motif, it’s this: “The crazier, the better.” The longest title: You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About.
Maslin wound up with “Here’s a sure way to tell when the summer reading season is ending. . . . Leaves will change color.” The ones on trees. Not those in books.
Blackmail works best. That seems to be Amazon’s negotiating strategy, at least. The online retailer is now refusing orders on some Hachette Book Group titles in an attempt to extort better contract terms from the publisher.
We reported earlier this week on Amazon’s “slow walking” of Hachette Book Group titles. Amazon was putting pressure on the smallest of the Big Five publishers as the two firms try to negotiate a new contract.
Amazon and Hachette Book Group are still battling it out as Amazon seeks to squeeze the publisher’s profit margins in their new contract. Amazon continues to deploy a tactic we’ve called “slow walking,” purposefully putting what appears to be hundreds of Hachette books on two to three week back order to remind Hachette of Amazon’s market power. (See “Amazon Slow-walks Books by Gladwell, Colbert, Others in Spat with Hachette” for more.)