PictureBig Brother is watching ...
What were the most recent books you took out of a library? Were they, by any chance, How to Build a Bomb That Will Destroy a Large Building in Washington, DC? Or, perhaps, Death to America? Or did you simply want to refresh your memory of Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States?

The American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center have all endorsed a bill, the Freedom Act, that will restore Americans' right to read and say what they like - unmonitored.

Privacy is among our most cherished civil rights - and for good reason. If somebody, somewhere in the bowels of wherever the Patriot Act allows drones to monitor what we read, decides that Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky is a terrorist, then you may suffer the consequences, simply by having taken home one of their books.

Of course, the argument in favor of monitoring citizens is that citizens must give up a certain amount of freedom in order to have security. The fears of Americans after 911 made this perspective seem reasonable.

What people tend to forget is that the federal government's (or any institution's) idea of security may have more to do with its own self-preservation than yours. The abandonment of freedom of the press in America in the wake of the Jacobin threat (The Sedition Act), stimulated, not a crack-down on sympathizers of the French Revolution, but on political opponents of the Federalist government.

Historically, it has always been the case that whenever civil liberties are revoked, the purpose is not to safeguard the rights of citizens, but to extend the reach of whoever happens to be in power.

This article appeared a few days ago in Publisher's Weekly. Give it a read. And send a quick thank you note to Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative James Sensenbrenner for standing up to Big Brother. George Orwell would appreciate it.

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Book Groups Back Bill to Restore Privacy Protections

Publisher's Weekly, Nov 14, 2013

Spurred by revelations of how the National Security Agency is collecting information on citizens, the Campaign for Reader Privacy has issued a statement calling for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act. CRP, a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, said passage of the bill will restore privacy protections that were eliminated by the Patriot Act.

The Freedom Act (S. 1599/H.R. 3361) was introduced on October 29 by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in response to the news that the National Security Agency is using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records of the telephone calls made by Americans without regard to whether they are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Section 215 eliminated the requirement that the government show evidence of “individualized suspicion” before it can conduct a search in a terrorism investigation.

Since 2004, CPR has warned that Section 215 could be used to obtain the records of innocent Americans, including records of the books they purchase from bookstores or borrow from libraries. Supporters of the Patriot Act, including Rep. Sensenbrenner, argued that it would be used only to investigate someone suspected of terrorism. The revelations of former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, however, convinced Sensenbrenner and others that additional safeguards are needed to protect privacy. The Freedom Act would limit government searches to the records of people who are suspected terrorists and their associates.

Read the rest of this important article HERE.

 
 
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Article first published as Random House Opens Its Doors to Self-Published Authors, Perhaps on Blogcritics.

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity

With a few famous exceptions, self-publishing, aka “vanity” publishing, is the kiss of death for writers. For aspiring writers hoping to take a seat in the hallowed halls of authordom, launching a novel with a self-published imprimatur was almost like having a scarlet A stitched onto your bodice – as far as the major houses were concerned.

Then, along came Fifty Shades of Grey, originally published as an ebook by an obscure “virtual” publisher in Australia. Within a year, Amazon announced that it had sold more copies of Fifty Shades than Harry Potter. The publishing world was shaken. An ebook, fan fiction no less, had outsold the top-grossing series of all time. Random House, still smarting from having turned down J.K. Rowling, leapt to its metaphorical feet and did the unthinkable. It picked up a self-published ebook. This was a first for the world’s largest publisher, an opening of doors that had, up until now, been almost impossible to enter. It was hailed as a turnaround for the industry. But was it?

Random House’s sudden epiphany - “there’s gold in them thar hills!” - was followed by yet another Eureka moment. Anybody can sell electronic books! Random House immediately threw its hat into the ring, and started its own digital imprints: Alibi (mystery), Loveswept (romance), Flirt (for “New Adults,” whoever they are), and Hydra, a sci-fi imprint aptly named after a multi-headed reptile which was so poisonous even its tracks were deadly. Notwithstanding the ominous association with Greek monsters, Random House held out the biggest carrot of all time: Authors could submit their works, even those “previously published,” directly to Random House, thus bypassing the almost insurmountable hurdle of snaring an agent.

 Naturally, there was a catch – or two.

The first catch was that authors would have to bear the costs of publication. This is also true for self-published authors, though now those costs would be exclusively determined by Random House. The second was that instead of receiving the traditional advance against publication, there would be “profit sharing.” The publisher and author would split revenues 50/50. As it turns out, “profit sharing” is simply a rebranding of the Subsidiary Rights clause of the standard Random House contract, in which proceeds of electronic books, audiobooks, translations, etc. are divided equally between publisher and author.

In short, by removing up-front payments to the author, while simultaneously eliminating all of its own expenses, Random House was imitating a vanity press.  But, unlike vanity houses, they would take half of the profits. Random House was hoping nobody could add.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) not only added, they subtracted their members. In a scathing letter sent to its members on March 6, the SFWA stated that it had “determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra cannot be used as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market.”

The reason? “Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable. Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.”

Needless to say, there are serious ramifications from being blacklisted by sci-fi’s largest and most influential writer’s association. Random House was compelled to make an immediate rebuttal.

“We read with interest your posts today about the new Random House digital imprints and our business model,” wrote Allison Dobson, V.P., Digital Publishing Director. “While we respect your position, you’ll not be surprised to learn that we strongly disagree with it, and wish you had contacted us before you published your posts.”

The opening of this letter precisely mimics the simulated regret that politically correct parents employ when punishing their wayward children: We like you, but we don’t like what you did.

Sci-fi wrists duly slapped, Allison now proceeded to the spin, “with a profit-share model … the author and publisher share equally in the profits from each and every sale. In effect, we partner with the author for each book.” Allison describes this partnership as “an all-encompassing collaboration.”

(Translation: We are on your side. We’re really your friends.)

Addressing costs, Allison says, “These costs could be much higher--and certainly be more stressful and labor-intensive to undertake--for an author with a self-publishing model. Profits are generated once those costs are subtracted from the sales revenue. Hydra and the author split those profits equally from the very first sale.”  

(Translation: You’re too young to handle this. Leave everything to us. We know what’s best for you.)

As a disciplinary device, this letter was nothing short of brilliant. It hit every aspiring author’s weak spots in a way that nobody could resist. But Random House has had plenty of practice at this game. These tactics are the stock-in-trade of publishing houses: shining promises, followed by intimidating jargon, followed by incomprehensible terms.

SFWA did not recant, and Random House was forced to comply with the usual standards of print publication. Authors submitting work to Random House’s electronic imprints are now offered a choice of the advance against royalties model, with a royalty of 25 percent of net receipts, and the publisher “will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.”

The day has been won by organized labor, but in reality nothing has changed. Authors still provide the raw materials (for a small percentage), and publishers provide the finished goods for the bulk of the profit. Whether it takes on a new guise, sports a new brand, or appears to adopt a new format, The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Get the details:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/56244-rh-responds-to-sfwa-slamming-its-hydra-imprint.html

http://www.atrandom.com/eoriginals/index.php (New RH Imprints)

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=17222280&postID=6545427618418573673&page=1&token=1364342448331 (Writer Beware blog)

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/sci-fi-and-fantasy-writers-group-condemns-random-house-hydra-digital-imprint/


 

Biggered again!

03/29/2013

 
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Scott Turow
Shortly after reading the news that Amazon had purchased Goodreads on Publishers Weekly this morning, I received this message from the Authors Guild. Need I say more?

Turow on Amazon/Goodreads: This is how modern monopolies can be built

By Scott Turow

Author's Guild Blog Post 3/29/2013

Amazon’s garden walls are about to grow much higher. In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book 
recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.

“Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built,” said Scott Turow, Authors Guild president. “The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat. With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing on-line bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon. Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for on-line reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books. As those in advertising have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling information.”

One example should make it clear how formidable this combination is. For “Animals Make Us Human” by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Amazon has 123 customer reviews, and B&N has about 40 (they report 150, but that figure includes ratings as well as reviews). Goodreads swamps these figures, with 469 reviews and 2,266 ratings for the book.

As an independent platform, Goodreads, with its 16 million members, posed a serious competitive threat to Amazon. No more.

 
 
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Last week I received this announcement from Random House:

"To Our Authors, 

Our most important mission will always be to publish the work you entrust to us for everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform. That mandate is a primary motivation behind Bertelsmann and Pearson, the parent companies of Random House and the Penguin Book group, signing an agreement this week to combine our respective trade book activities.

One of the defining characteristics of the new company I am most excited about is that it will be author- publisher- and editor-centered – just like Random House. When we join together we will be retaining the distinct identities of both companies’ imprints and you will benefit from an extraordinary breadth of publishing choices and editorial talents and experience. Our Random House imprint leadership remains endowed with creative autonomy, and financial resources, to decide which books to publish, and how to publish them. We expect this to continue in our new business, where we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands. Your relationship with your editor and your publishing team will be unaffected by the new company.


A diversified retail and distribution marketplace for print and digital formats remains a key priority for Random House now, and in the future. Our investments in enhancing the supply chain and our marketing support will supply more services for physical retailers, while expanding our opportunities in the digital space. We expect to create more tools to help you take full advantage of the many online marketing platforms for growing your readership. And we certainly want to continue to expand our Author Portal, which has become an enormously popular and useful resource for so many.

For now, it is business as usual at Random House and Penguin. Soon, we hope to join together to offer an even deeper backlist, alongside our newly published titles. In our partnership, we will be even better positioned to provide copyright protection and support your intellectual property.

Random House and Bertelsmann believe strongly in the future of trade book publishing, and our continuing commercial and cultural success is a major reason why Bertelsmann is extending and expanding its investment and support with the new company. For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books.

All my best, 

Marcus Dohle"

If you are as impressed as I am by large quantities of horse manure, the true significance of this announcement will have completely escaped you. 

So now, boys and girls, we will have a pop quiz.

What is the underlying meaning of the above passage?

a) This merger does not affect me, because I am never going to get published anyway. 
b) WOW! If I ever do get published by Bertelsmann/Pearson/ Random House/Penguin, I'll be famous all over the world, and maybe even in Outer Space.
c) What the hell is a deeper backlist?
d) It is and always will be about the books. Your books.

(The correct answer is: e) We're screwed.)


(The first sentence is the tip-off. Notice the close proximity of the terms: "entrust", "mandate", "mission" and "everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform.")

The reason that the union of the two largest publishers in the world is terrible for writers is unclearly stated in paragraph two:  "we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands." 

The history of these publishing houses has nothing whatsoever to do with storied brands. In fact, it has nothing to do with "marketing support", "platforms", or "supply chains" either. The origin of Random House, as stated by Bennet Cerf,  was "to publish a few books on the side at random."  And so they did. Many random authors, who couldn't find a home elsewhere, were published by Random House (Ayn Rand and Jerzy Kosinski among them).  The heritage of Penguin was to publish Lolita, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Deer Park, books which had been rejected by scores of publishers (back then we still had scores), and which, once they were finally published, made it onto banned book lists everywhere. 

This is the proud heritage of Random House and Penguin: to publish groundbreaking new ideas without regard to the "market." Because that is the purpose of a publishing house - the dissemination of ideas. 

We will be seeing fewer of them in future.

Bertelsmann, a privately owned company based in Germany, owns publishing, music, and broadcasting companies in 60 countries, including: BBC Books, Multnomah, Triumph Books and the largest English trade publishing house in the world - Random House, which in turn owns Crown Publishing Group, Knopf Doubleday, Crown, Harmony Books, Ten Speed Press, Tricycle Press, Celestial  Arts, Three Rivers Press, Broadway Books, Clarkson Potter, Watson-Gupthill, Back Stage Books, Anchor Books, Doubleday, Vintage, Pantheon Books, Delacorte, Fodor's, Bantam Dell, Del Rey, The Dial Press, The Modern Library, and ... (wait for it) ... One World. 



 

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