Not necessarily new news, but I went to High School with a couple of his kids and they all were class acts. Westbury Pharmacy was the place I got prescriptions for years before moving out of Richmond proper.
An indie publisher wonders who the government is protecting in its e-book-pricing lawsuit
By Martin Shepard |
I’ve been going nuts lately reading about the government’s prosecution—or is it persecution?—of Apple and five major e-book publishers (who account for the majority of trade book sales), and I feel impelled to get some things off my chest and clarify my mind about this confusing issue. The longer the lawsuit plays out, the more absurd it becomes. The U.S. attorneys accuse the defendants of collusion. “We must protect the public from those conspiring to control prices of e-books.”
To my mind, authors need more protection than the public. In the end, any book is an author’s creation, and the writer deserves the fairest shake he or she can get. No two books are alike—all are individual creations—and the idea that e-book prices would uniformly rise if Apple and the publishing conglomerates got their way, as the government suggests, is hard to accept. I don’t know how the Big Six divvy up e-book sales with their authors, but I’d surely like to find out. Maybe the prosecution could ask the witnesses from the five publishers accused in the case about this, since the government’s attorneys are on a fishing expedition and can ask anything that stirs the pot and creates drama. Could there be collusion among the publishers on this score, too—figuring out a system to shortchange their authors? It’s certainly a possibility. Perhaps they pay royalties on e-book sales on a scale equivalent to royalties paid on sale of physical books. But then again, the Department of Justice is not committed to protecting authors’ rights, but rather to protecting those of consumers, who want to pay less for e-books. Perhaps another investigation is in order.
I think it’s proper for publishers to treat electronic sales the same way we do all subright sales: dividing the income on a 50/50 basis with writers. After all, it represents income that comes into our hands out of the blue, without us having to do anything further as publishers and without requiring further investment on our parts—just like income from film options, foreign and domestic sales, and excerpts. I also believe that publishers have the right to set prices on the e-books they publish—just as they have a right to set prices on the physical books they publish. If Apple allows publishers to set their own prices, that’s a good thing. If wholesalers wish to give greater discounts, that’s up to them. But if Apple only takes 30% of the e-book selling price, then a $10 sale nets the publisher $7, and the author—under our system—earns $3.50 per sale. On the other hand, if Amazon takes 50% and overrules the publisher’s asking price by deciding to sell the same book for $8, the publisher nets $4 and the author earns $2. Big difference, wouldn’t you say?
The very idea that the public needs protection in these instances seems absurd, since a book is not a necessity like food or fuel or electricity. Books and e-books are, in the end, entertainment: entertainment that the public can purchase, or take from any public library at no cost whatsoever. But if the Justice Department starts prosecuting publishers and book retailers in order to “protect the public against price rises,” who knows what other forms of entertainment might come under investigation in the future.
Frankly, we adore Kindle sales, though Amazon often lowers prices to less than those we suggest. But it pays on time (unlike many bookstores and wholesalers) and accounts for over 80% of our e-book sales. If anything, authors would benefit if publishers could have some certainty about the net receipts they’ll earn on e-books sold through different retailers. Amazon would still have the choice of lowering its discount or not, in order to compete with Apple and others—and publishers would have a guarantee about what the net will be.
To me, this lawsuit is a glaring example of government excess, providing big headlines concerning “conspiracy” and “protecting the public,” while wasting taxpayers’ money and going after the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons. But America thrives on confrontations and conflict—be it between sports teams or legal teams, or publishers and retailers.
Ultimately Shakespeare, and Faulkner, said it best: the case is “much ado about nothing” and “sound and fury”— quite dramatic, but empty of substance, other than burnishing prosecutors reputations and defense lawyers incomes.
Martin Shepard is copublisher of the Permanent Press.
With losses mounting in its Nook segment, Barnes & Noble reported a net loss of $154.8 million in the fiscal year ended April 27, 2013 compared to a loss of $65.6 million in fiscal 2012. Total sale fell 4.1%, to $6.84 billion. As sales of Nook devices sag, B&N announced that it will be adopting a “partner-centric” model to manufacture its color tablets as part of an effort to significantly cut expenses in the Nook group.
In fiscal 2013, Nook segment sales fell 16.8% (including a 34% decline in the fourth quarter) to $776.2 million. The segment racked up EBITDA losses of $475.4 million compared to $261.7 million last year; $222 million of the fiscal 2013 losses were due to inventory charges. B&N said it will continue to sell existing devices through the 2013 holiday season and will continue to develop its Simple Touch and Glowlight e-readers, the two lines that generate the most content sales, in-house. On the digital content side, sales rose 16.2% for the full year, but were down 8.9% in the fourth quarter due to difficult comparisons with last year’s Fifty Shades and Hunger Games successes. CEO William Lynch repeatedly stressed that the emphasis in the year will be on cutting Nook losses and pointed to the $26 million in expenses it cut in the unit in the fiscal fourth quarter which he said came from reductions in marketing costs, lower headcount, and other savings initiatives. Lynch acknowledged that the losses in the Nook group were “much higher than expected.”
B&N will continue to add content to its digital stores, including apps and e-books, executives said. And a spokesperson said the company still expects to have 10 international Nook stores by the end of 2013.
In retail trade, sales for the full year fell 5.9%, to $4.57 billion although EBITDA rose to $374.2 million from $322.5 million. B&N attributed the decline to a 3.4% drop in comparable store sales (8.8% for the quarter), lower online sales, and store closures. Executives said “core comps”-presumably of books and educational games and toys–“were essentially flat” in the year. B&N closed 18 outlets in fiscal 2013 and opened two leaving it with 675 trade stores at the moment. In fiscal 2014 it will open up to five stores and close 15 to 20.
B&N did not have a positive outlet for fiscal 2014 for the retail stores, forecasting comp declines in the high single digits. College group comps are expected to fall in the low single digits. B&N will spend $75 million on the retail stores in the current year, money that will be spent on new stores and maintenance of existing outlets.
Asked several times by analysts of the status of the discussions with Len Riggio to buy the retail stores, executives had no comment and declined to give a timeframe for when a decision will be made.
Every once in a while I get a letter that goes something like this: “I’m thinking of writing a book. When can I expect to see it in the bookstore?”
I don’t like to admit this, but when I began to write and fall in love with my own words I had stars in my eyes. I’d seen some stunning successes among the authors I was reading, so why not? And even now, every year there’s an author who bursts upon the scene with a knockout first book and is propelled into overnight success. It can happen. Right?
Sure. But it won’t. Okay, it will for 0.01% of the aspiring authors out there. In fact, only a few very fortunate writers will eke out a living publishing novels. The reality takes a while to dawn and even longer to accept. So then, trying like hell to prove this wrong, we scramble to adopt marketing strategies, chase popular trends, fashion our work to fit the slot, change genres to become more desirable, and read and read and read and measure everything against ourselves and our own work. We take enormous pleasure in the struggles of other writers who ultimately crack the code.
The one piece of advice that is most logical is also the hardest to make peace with: the notion that the only thing the writer can control is the writing—and that’s temporary at best. Editors have an important function, after all, and one of them is helping you see where you went wrong. And yet there is something about finally identifying why you do it that is so much more productive than what you’re doing it for. There’s something just plain logical about knowing what the true motivation is rather than making a list of how you’ll spend all your money and what antics you’ll use to dodge, or take advantage of, celebrity status.
Making up a story—for me, an entertaining escape filled with humanity and romance—is at the core of everything. And it’s hard—so hard. Reading it over and over, researching, making changes, asking for advice, thinking till your brain hurts… Because it’s absolutely true: this is the place where I feel most powerful, most indomitable, and most satisfied when it works. This is the peace—when you know in your gut that this is fun, that you like doing it, that even if no one ever paid you, you’d probably do it anyway. And I also like that it’s hard! If it wasn’t very hard, what would I be accomplishing? If it wasn’t hard, anyone could do it. I might be twisted, but I never wanted to be paid to nap.
My husband is a commercial pilot and I’m a writer and there have been times—too many to count—that we had to take other jobs to keep the wolf from the door. It was during those times that we talked a lot about what a great privilege it is to have the luxury of doing work we love. More than a privilege, an honor.
I write because it’s fun. To keep that in perspective, some people box for fun, getting their faces bashed in, bleeding and getting knocked out. Writing stories feels good, it feels right, it’s fulfilling.
And yes, it feels even better to get paid for it. But I’d probably do it anyway.
Robyn Carr is a bestselling romance author and creator of the popular Virgin River series. Her next novel, due out from Mira in late June, is The Newcomer—the second book in Carr’s Thunder Point series.
In an early morning talk, Jaron Lanier, the technologist and bestselling author of You are Not a Gadget, kicked off the ALA 2013 auditorium speaker series with a rousing wake-up call to librarians: don’t let technology dehumanize the world.
In a fascinating indictment of our developing digital economy, Lanier told librarians that the digital architecture we have chosen so far represents the “the wrong kind of openness, and the wrong kind of free,” and has led to a rise in big computing that is “crippling our institutions,” and actually leading us toward economic ruin.
For such a dire message, the messenger, in his famous long dreadlocks, was remarkably amiable, and held librarians rapt attention for over an hour as he outlined the thesis of his forthcoming book Who Owns the Future. While praising the ubiquity of information in the digital age, Lanier decried the way our networks have developed thus far, which has given organizations with the means to harness great computing power to parse citizens’ information to create schemes that enrich themselves, while shifting the costs to us.
“People who design these information networks like to believe it is totally free,” Lanier said. “And that’s a problem.”
In fact, he explained, using the metaphor of “Maxwell’s Demon,” a tenet of thermodynamics, “information is real work.” He spoke of the insurance industry, which can now use computing and network power to analyze statistical data and dump high risk patients. Of course, he noted, while that increases the insurance industry’s profits, society is left to pick up the cost. He also cited WalMart, which once used its computing power to assess its suppliers’ costs, so it could negotiate lower prices. But while that led to lower prices for consumers, it also led to lower job prospects for them. “They have created a private scheme for themselves,” Lanier explained, “but the risk radiates out to society.”
The fuel of these schemes, of course, is information, which is now increasingly freely harvested. “You are being modeled,” Lanier said of users who search on Google, and post on Facebook. “While you can tend your profile on facebook, you don’t get to see your real profile,” he explained, describing it as a “giant statistical mosaic.” And by creating models that are even just slightly more reliable than random, these companies, reap fortunes.
One such company, Lanier pointed out, is Amazon. “Amazon is ruining your business,” Lanier said. By creating its “price bot” Amazon ensures that will never be undersold. Using a “giant far-away computer” Amazon robs local players of the ability to compete, and gathers crucial customer data. And, while consumers may only see lower prices and convenience, such practices are take a toll on society at large. Even while making a choice that appears to be in your interest, such as paying a lower price, it is in fact to your detriment, Lanier argued.
Still, Lanier sounded hopeful that the public would eventually catch up, and correct course. He described the issue as “epochal” and estimated that we have about 20 years to fix the situation. After his talk, librarians were eager to ask questions, with one asking if librarians were part of the problem since they buy information and make it available for free?
No, Lanier said, because libraries hold patron information private, a value that should be embraced.
Here’s today’s listing from Barnes and Noble: