Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More Authors Guild Nonsense

I was willing to ease up on my constant critiques of the Authors Guild, because last week they did something I thought was a step in the right direction. They blogged about how publishers need to increase ebook rates.

Good for the Authors Guild, for addressing an issue that would benefit authors. They get a polite golf clap for their effort.

Why not a rousing, standing ovation?

As far as I know, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, the Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative thusfar isn't putting any pressure on the Big 5.

In the coming months, the Authors Guild will address the major inequities and critical issues in many boilerplate contract terms. (...) It is time for publishers to eliminate one-sided agreements and policies that are patently unfair. We hope the Fair Contract Initiative can be the first step in that process. 

So, on the surface, it seems that the AG is doing what it should have been doing since its formation; advocating and fighting for the rights of writers. Their mission statement is:

...to support working writers. We advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright. We create community and we fight for a living wage.

One simply needs to search my blog to read about the many times the AG has sided with publishers over authors. But this Fair Contract Initiative seems like it is making an effort to better serve its members, and seems like a step toward fighting for better contract terms with publishers.

So far, however, it's only publicly acknowledging a problem that the majority of writers have known about since publishers insisted on Agency Pricing: ebook royalties suck.

While public acknowledgement is the first step, it isn't enough. The AG has been acknowledging this for years. Where is the call to action? Where is the petition demanding change? Where are the letters to the CEOs of the major publishers saying the current situation is unacceptable?

Maybe all of this is coming soon. Inform first (even if it is information we've all known for a very long time), then take action.

But a few days later, the AG sent a letter to Congress insisting they do more to combat piracy. So apparently they can, and do, take action. Just not against publishers.

Where's the letter to Congress asking them to investigate the Big 6 and their history of price fixing (what other industry prints prices on their product, but doesn't try to undercut competitors on price? Hint: cartels), identical unconscionable contract terms, stranglehold on book distribution, terrible royalties, and general ongoing abuse of writers and readers for more than 30 years?

Answer: there is no letter. To anyone. Only a blog post saying 50% royalties is fair. It concludes with:

We hope that established authors and, particularly, bestselling authors will start to push back and stand up to publishers on the royalty rate—on behalf of all authors, as well as themselves.

So, here is the guild that authors pay a annual fee to join, so said guild can advocate for writers, and the Authors Guild basically tells them to help themselves.

No show of force. No demands. No promise of support.

Maybe a golf clap was too much.

But if the issue is piracy, which doesn't involve biting the hand that feeds, to Congress we must go!

Now this piracy nonsense is among the most egregiously shitty things the Authors Guild has done. Anyone with two functioning neurons and a passing understanding of how the world wide web works knows the term "net neutrality" (namely that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, without discrimination.)

This is a Really Big Deal. Once ISPs and governments begin to police what can and can't be viewed on the Internet, it becomes a First Amendment/censorship fight, which anyone who values freedom (which is everyone but maniacal dictators) should rightfully abhor.

This reached a head in 2012 with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy bill introduced by some idiot in Congress.

Provisions included the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the websites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the websites. The proposed law would have expanded existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

That's right. Your government wants to put you in jail for half a decade for torrenting yesterday's episode of Game of Thrones.

Naturally, there was resistance. On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia, Google, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, in protest against the bill. As they should.

Well, your Authors Guild wants to bring SOPA back.

ISPs have the ability to monitor piracy. Technology that can identify and filter pirated material is now commonplace. It only makes sense, then, that ISPs should bear the burden of limiting piracy on their sites.

Hoo boy.

So let's get the government to force ISPs to censor websites.

Slippery slope, anyone?

No doubt the AG knows this idea wipes its ass with the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech is pretty damn important, especially for a group of writers who make their livings trafficking in words. In sending this letter to Congress, the Authors Guild must have overwhelming evidence that piracy harms writers, and this harm must be so egregious that we should be willing to ignore the Bill of Rights in order to stop it.

Right?

Wrong.

I have yet to see a single controlled study that conclusively shows the financial impact piracy has on sales.

The publishing industry as a whole loses $80 to $100 million to piracy annually, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Sure it does. How is this figure determined? Where's the math? Where's the data? Where's the proof?

A common fallacy of piracy paranoiacs is that a pirated book equals a lost sale.

Here are several reasons this is untrue.

1. A pirate wouldn't have necessarily bought the book.
2. With file sharing, there is no tangible loss of physical property.
3. A pirate who downloads a book may then buy that book, or other titles by that author.
4. There is no data to show how many pirated books are actually read.
5. Studies have shown that file sharing doesn't harm sales, and may actually boost revenue.
6. Currently copyright law is woefully out of date, and needs to be reformed.

If someone breaks into your warehouse and steals $100 million worth of goods, that's a $100 million loss. If someone uploads your book to the Pirate Bay and shares it with 1000 people, there is no way to estimate loss. It might even be a gain, as obscurity is a writer's biggest hurdle to overcome.

The hysteria over file sharing is emotion-based. Intellectual property law doesn't apply well to a digital world, and global attitudes toward file sharing are changing as more and more people find it acceptable. At the same time, digital media sales and subscription services are thriving. Money is rolling in. This fear is all unfounded, and cannot be connected to any artist's pocketbook.

67% of our authors earn less than poverty level from their writing

And global warming is directly linked to the the declining number of seafaring pirates in the world.

This is one of the oldest fallacies in the book, confusing correlation with causality. Hey! Authors Guild! Maybe your writers can't earn a living because publishers don't pay them enough. That's something you can actually prove, with real numbers. Instead of sending that 67% statistic to Congress, send it to the heads of the Big 5 and tell them no guild member will sign another contract until they pay more.

Ha! Like that will ever happen.

Despite many publishers’ implementation of anti-piracy software and technological protection measures, the problem continues to grow. 

Do you AG folks know that Apple--the world's biggest music retailer--stopped using DRM on songs in 2009? Because DRM hurts consumers. All this time and money being wasted on lawyers and anti-piracy software and takedown notices could instead be shared with authors in the form of better royalties and higher advances.

This will all be a moot point soon, when digital streaming becomes the norm for ebooks. AFAIK, this topic isn't even on the Authors Guild's radar yet. But they'll get to it in five years, like the luddites they continue to prove they are.

Finally, to complete the fail trifecta, the Authors Guild threw their support behind that nauseatingly awful Authors United letter.

The Authors Guild supports Preston’s actions and endorses his request, as do the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

Great. Not only the Publisher's Guild is supporting that halfwit, Preston, but so is the Association of Publisher's Representatives.

From the AAR's Canon of Ethics:

the members pledge themselves to loyal service to their clients’ business and artistic needs, and will allow no conflicts of interest that would interfere with such service. 

Hint: Amazon sells more books than any other retailers, and treats writers better than any other publisher. Supporting Preston's half-assed efforts to break up Amazon's imaginary monopoly is the exact definition of conflict of interest.

Fear can make people act stupid. And when your ship is sinking, it's natural to cry for help. It's also natural to feel that the situation is unfair. While frightened, people can lament, do stupid things, and lie to themselves.

These are scary times. Lots of technological disruption. Lots of change. Lots of uncertainty. But being scared isn't an excuse for all of this sloppy thinking, reckless behavior, and abuse of power.

Protecting the status quo isn't forward-thinking. Especially when that status quo harmed more writers than it helped. How about, instead of fighting the future in an increasingly pathetic attempt to return to the old ways, you do yourselves, your clients, and your members a favor and start trying to figure out how to thrive in this new publishing environment?

Me? If I was sinking, I'd start bailing. And repairing my boat. And looking for alternative means of flotation.

Amazon has helped me earn a lot of money. But I don't feel Amazon, or anyone, owes me a living. I'm not envious of authors that outsell me. I'm not angry I never had, and likely never will, have a NYT bestselling book. I don't feel slighted because most ABA members refuse to carry my Amazon published novels. And I certainly wouldn't ever write Congress or the Assistant Attorney General about these things, or support any pinhead who did.

I don't whine. I adapt. I look at the present publishing climate, and try to adjust accordingly, while also keeping my eye on the future.

Blaming Amazon, or piracy, for your sinking sales isn't looking toward the future, or even maximizing the potential of the present. Even if Amazon or piracy were indeed illegally responsible for the implosion of your industry, that horse has left the barn. The digital age is here. Deal with it.

An Authors Guild worth its name would help writers navigate this new publishing terrain, rather than cling desperately to the Old Old Ways. An AAR worth its name wouldn't support actions intended to harm the majority of authors.

But, as I've said repeatedly, this is because the Authors Guild, and the AAR, don't work for authors.

They work for publishers. That's who has been buttering their bread. That's who they serve.

When are we authors going to have a group that actually advocates for us?

13 comments:

Joseph Ratliff said...

This post was full of publishing wisdom (as usual), Joe.

Except one thing, the use of the term "luddite" to describe AG is mildly out of context. Technophobes? Maybe. Perhaps even a little bit of curmudgeon in the executive staff? Sure.

But luddites?

I don't think they are aiming to destroy Kindles (physically) or digital publishing technology, because if they had their way, these technologies would be useful for their members too (key distinction, IMO).

I might be too critical of the word use, though.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Far be it from me to agree with TAG, but I think we should accept their estimate of $100 million in losses for the simple reason that it is an admission that piracy really isn't a problem.

Remember, the AAP said that the US publishing industry was worth $28 billion last year.

On that scale piracy is a rounding issue and not a serious concern.

Brian said...

"When are we authors going to have a group that actually advocates for us?"

When enough authors realize that they can't exchange gatekeeper validation and awards for food and shelter.

The way things are going, legacy publishing might implode before the last generation of Stockholm syndrome cases wise up. By the time they find the courage to negotiate for more, there may not be anyone left to negotiate with.

Joe Konrath said...

Great point, Nate.

Also, between the DRM and the lawyers, how much money are the Big 5 wasting on piracy-related expenses? I'd guess in the millions. So subtract that figure, too.

Joe Konrath said...

Remember, Joseph:

The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers who protested against newly developed labour-economizing technologies from 1811 to 1816.

That pretty much suits the Authors Guild perfectly.

BRYAN HIGBY said...

There is a lot to talk about here but I’ll just comment on the piracy thing.
One of my favorite writers and personalities is Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is a bestselling author in many fields. I watched an interview with him once and he was asked about piracy. His response was one of the most insightful and obvious around. When asked what he thought of piracy he said it’s great because his traditional publisher were up at arms about seeing his books pirated across the internet. Not long after his books sales sky rocketed because of the growth in fan base. He’s gone on to endorse piracy of his works. I agree. Anyone wants to pirate my stuff have at it!

Joseph Ratliff said...

Joe,

I'm imagining Scott Turow in a 19th century English textile worker uniform ... and laughing uncontrollably (as well as acknowledging you are correct). I was a bit critical.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Actually, Joe, it turns out we need to ignore that figure entirely. I checked with the AAP and they say it did not come from them,

antares said...

I think Nathaniel Hoffelder is on to something, so I dug around a little (a very little).

Library Journal reported Penguin Random House (PRH) had gross revenues of US$3.7 for the 2013 fiscal year. ( http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/04/publishing/penguin-random-house-releases-first-annual-report-following-merger/#_ )

I shall use PRH's income as a proxy for half the publishing-house book sales, so total publishing house gross revenues for that period are US$7.4.

Taking Preston's high figure ($100 million), piracy amounted to 1.35% of publishing-house book sales. This is comparable to the losses banks experience on credit card revenues, their most profitable revenue center.

+++++

Speaking of dead bodies . . .

. . . Eric Flint ignores piracy. He says visibility was, is, and always will be a greater problem for writers and publishers than piracy.

Mr Flint tried an experiment many years ago. With the cooperation of Jim Baen, Flint made Mother of Demons, free. The results were astounding. His sales INCREASED, including sales of Mother of Demons. See http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/2011/09/26/salvos-against-big-brother/ (WARNING: This was an extraordinarily long post. To get to the relevant part quickly, search the text (ctl-f) for "sub-title". If you are an author, you really need to read this.)

Eric Flint has shown the way to marginalize piracy. Why do it any other way?

antares said...

Note: Search for "need sub-title".

Wayne McDonald said...

The 67% is sad, but what was it a decade ago? Big publishing has been slashing advances for years and that has nothing to do with piracy. If the 1.3% above is used then at best an author making say $15000 goes to $15195. An author selling a $9 eBook getting 50% of royalties instead of 25% would get that $195 in roughly 62 books sold( 195/ ((9*.7)/2) ).

Which battle is more important is easy from the math.

christo1 said...

Hmm. That's 67% of authors in the Author's Guild. I wonder how many of them are academics whose books are poetry and experimental fiction. I'm not ragging on poetry at all, but those markets tend to be low.

I wouldn't be surprised, of course. The AG seems to conflate.

I do think we're being too kind to the AG here. We assume they're stupid. I really think they're mendacious.

This, along with the AU letters, spells something fishy. Joe, I think you're right on track saying they don't want fair treatment - they want domination and control of the market. Permit my polemicism, but *every* writer should be protesting these Stalinists as their futures are at stake. And I mean every writer - trad published and indie alike.

Phil said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what I've been saying all along about piracy. [Kowtowing. (see historical definition if anyone doesn't know what that is)] Best anti piracy rant I have seen was some twit who quoted Neil Gaiman about authors using it as justification to go after pirates. Silly twit apparently can't read or watch YouTube.