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E- BOOKS: PUBLISHERS vs. AUTHORS – THE BROKEN REVENUE MODEL

New Post Every Wednesday, 8:30 pm, ET.

Note: This Post will stay up for 1 more week, with the addition below of a new article from the April 17, 2013 New York Times on David Mamet’s plan to self-publish his new work.

A TIME FOR CHANGE

Scott Turow, author, lawyer, and president of the Authors Guild has written and spoken extensively on the subject of Publishers vs. Authors in the e-book age. Most recently, he wrote a piece in the April 7, 2013 edition of the New York Times titled, “The Slow Death of the American Author.” There, he says,

Take e-books. They are much less expensive for publishers to produce: there are no printing, warehousing or transportation costs, and unlike physical books, there is no risk that the retailer will return the book for full credit.

But instead of using the savings to be more generous to authors, the six major publishing houses — five of which were sued last year by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division for fixing e-book prices — all rigidly insist on clauses limiting e-book royalties to 25 percent of net receipts. That is roughly half of a traditional hardcover royalty.

THE ROAD TO SERFDOM ON THE SUPERHIWAY

Turow also says, “Many people would say such changes [for authors] are simply in the nature of markets, and see no problem if authors are left to write purely for the love of the game.”

These same people should try applying that maxim to Wall Street. The hypocrisy and absurdity of such a position becomes readily apparent. Publishers are trying to sell this to the public. Yet, increasingly in our system, those who produce the works which produce the profits are portrayed as the problem. Indeed, just look at how the idea of copyright is attacked in the popular media.

Guilds in the Middle Ages were established because of the abuses of feudal system. In short,

The system of Feudalism during the Middle Ages allowed the lords and owners of the land to tax the towns people and their trades. As trade increased during the Middle Ages the taxes became excessive. In Medieval England which was run to the feudal system it was impossible for just one man to make objections to the rate and amount of tax that the lord demanded. The idea of forming a Guild was born.

THEY SHOOT AUTHORS, DON’T THEY?

See Scott Turow answer the question about the future of authors in the e-book era in his address to  the 125th Anniversary: Celebrating Study Conference (begin at 1:16:00).

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

The solution is not simple, but a few things must be kept in mind. First, in the digital age, the phrase “content is king” means that without content, there is nothing to advertise. Second, advertising revenue is still the lifeblood of profit on the internet. Third, realizing this, publishers now are starting to charge for content, emphasizing the probability that the advertising revenue model for the internet (Google, for example) is not sustainable. Fourth, authors produce content. Organizations such as the Authors Guild can become a web publisher and distributor with its own e-book web site with open access technology for e-readers, or, because they control the content, put authors in a stronger bargaining position with e-publishers. This is what SAG (Screen Actors Guild) does for actors.

In the age of mega-billion dollar companies such as Amazon, it makes no sense for an individual author to try to bargain  for a “deal.”  In this game, the individual author has no power.  Indeed, as Turow noted in the NYT, the traditional functions of the “publisher” –printing, binding, warehousing, distributing, and dealing with remainders–  are no longer necessary. To continue to price e-book the same way hardcover books are priced is neither fair to the consumer or the author.

David Mamet has decided to self-publish. According to an article in the New York Times of April 17, 2012,

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.

This year, when Mr. Mamet set out to publish his next one, a novella and two short stories about war, he decided to take a very different path: he will self-publish.

Mr. Mamet is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.

THE FUTURE

However, there are even bigger changes on the horizon due to the technology of the  New Media, which can spur the creation of a new revenue model giving authors a fair deal.

THE FUTURE OF THE BOOK.  ARE INTERACTIVE E-BOOKS ,”E+,” A NEW GENRE?

The present e-reader is a device, not a genre. An e-reader is just a way of conveniently displaying current printed books. As stated in a previous post, we believe that The Book, both p and e, are already near artifacts. Book publishing is in the death throes of the last century, bound up in static, linear publications. Just as the iPod changed the entire music industry, the book publishing industry is on the brink of a paradigm change. That change is the enhanced or interactive e-book, “e+.” In a prior post we wrote about the enhanced e-book, “e +,” as a new genre which requires the incorporation of many disciplines and technologies. Below are two examples.

ON THE ROAD E-BOOKS: WHAT CAN AN ENHANCED E-BOOK, “E +,” DO FOR JACK KEROUAC’S ON THE ROAD?

Penguin Books has published an enhanced e-book by Jack Kerouac’s novel: On the Road. Both Penguin editors and the Kerouac estate curated this digital edition of On the Road. The book includes valuable features that show what can be done with the enhanced e-book novel, and is an excellent example of the use of New Media digital technology to enhance the value of the e-book, and the reader’s experience.

THE ENHANCED E- BOOK, ANNA KARENINA / Анна Каренина.

Anna Karenina can be enhanced in many areas, including but not limiting to: History, Politics, Art, Music, Film, Fashion, Graphic Arts, The Position of Women at the Time, Translations, and Audio Pronunciations of foreign names, such as “Anna Karenina” in Russian. Moreover, as demonstrated by the superb syllabus to such a course by Prof. Peter Holquist of the University of Pennsylvania, Anna Karenina can be the basis for a complete, multi-disciplinary course.

E+ = EXCELLENCE

The e+ book will meet all of the criteria of The Book in the New Media from the Purpose Page of this blog:

1. The e+ book will be accessible, that is able to be read in any format and by any device (Amazon offers a Kindle Reader app for iOS and Android devices, allowing you to read books on either an iPad or an Android tablet).
2. It will be interactive.
3. It will be viewer directed.
4. It will be able to be manipulated, enabling the reader to use their creativity to examine, adapt, and experiment with the content.
5. It will be be comparative , enabling the viewer to array the work of different writers side to compare and contrast literary styles.
6. Lastly, the e+ book will be able to be viewed as a continuum of man’s effort for expression.

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