Author Tells DOJ The Authors Guild Doesn't Speak For Him & Amazon Is The Only Company Encouraging Competition

from the questions-to-ponder dept

Author Joe Konrath has written a fantastic letter to the Justice Department to counter letters sent by the Association of Authors' Representatives and the Authors Guild (and some others), complaining about the DOJ's antitrust lawsuit against certain publishers and Apple to collude to keep ebook prices high. As Konrath notes, these groups don't appear to actually represent authors, but do seem to be representing the best interests of the legacy gatekeepers.
I’m writing to tell you that these organizations did not solicit the views of their members, that they in no way speak on behalf of all or even most of their members, and that (as I imagine is obvious) they are motivated not by what’s best for consumers, but by what they see as best for themselves.

I recognize that the heart of the DOJ’s suit is collusion, not high prices. But it’s clear that the legacy publishing industry’s strategy is to keep the prices of ebooks high so as not to cannibalize high-margin hardback sales. If the prices of legacy published books are kept artificially high it could be argued that my lower-priced self-published books are made more attractive by comparison, but I believe that a regime of higher-priced books is bad for the industry overall because it slows the growth of the global book market, which indeed hurts all sales. I also believe it’s obviously bad for consumers, especially lower-income consumers, who could buy more of the books they loved if those books weren’t priced so high.
The whole thing is a worthwhile read, and certainly raises questions about who gets to represent whom when such issues come up. For years, we've seen bogus claims that the RIAA represents "musicians" or that the MPAA represents "filmmakers," when nothing could be further from the truth. In this case, though, it's even more egregious, in that these organizations directly claim to represent authors. But, for the most part, they seem to be only be representing the interests of authors already successful under the old system -- and going against every other author (and potential author) out there. In other words, their focus is on protectionism for established players, not what's best for authors as a whole or the consumers they serve with their writing. That's unfortunate.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    Good for you

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    One thing I can't understand about e-books vs paper books. In the UK, e-books are subject to VAT but paper books are not and I cannot figure out why.

     

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  3.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    Reminds me of the Simpsons (doesn't everything?)

    Homer: Not so fast, pig. We're making a stand! A freaky stand! You can smash this drug barn all you want, but first you'll have to smash our heads open like ripe melons!

    Munchie: This man does not represent us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    I can barely contain this feeling of anticipation for our usual shills comments!

    Ahem. It is interesting, the other day I decided to actually put some mighty effort into looking for e-books here in Brazil. Mighty yes, it was pretty hard to find them (that was like 1-2 years ago btw) but I did find some stores selling them. I'm not sure about DRM since I never bought them at all but they were available in more than one format (pdf and mobi if memory serves) which doesn't seem that bad. Except that there was an incredibly limited range of what was available and ALL of them were at least 20% MORE EXPENSIVE than the paper ones.

    My economics got into action and I easily concluded that the book should cost at least 30% less in its digital form (I'm not gonna mention the paper book should come with the digital thing for free, I refuse to get into this debate, it shouldn't even take place). So srsly. The Publishers Guild and any of those outfits can go fck themselves, I will download. ESPECIALLY if I already own a copy.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 12:34pm

    same old story. regardless of the media type, the legacy gatekeepers are doing their best to protect their members, provided that in doing so, there is absolutely no reduction at all in the amount of money those gatekeepers get.

     

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  6.  
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    jaded, May 29th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    False Advertising

    ... folks like the RIAA claiming they represent musicians, and the Authors Guild claiming to represent authors should be subject to truth-in-advertising rules over these claims.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    GMacGuffin (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    Hitting home...

    This issue is lately on my front burner, having purchased some nice hardcovers for my wife, and finding that the ebook version for one is only $2 cheaper. Really? No crossover deal at the least?

    Frankly, if it's not on my tablet, it ain't likely to be read by me. Guess I'll just wait until someone torrents it so I will have the opportunity to read that which I have already purchased.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 12:49pm

    So why can't we launch an anti-trust suit against the RIAA, MPAA, and/or Author's Guild for attempting to crush any and all competition from their industries and to maintain high royalties and/or other fees associated with accessing products through them?

    Comparing the RIAA/MPAA/etc to Microsoft, makes Microsoft come out looking like a Saint, in my opinion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 1:14pm

    Re: easy answer

    "One thing I can't understand about e-books vs paper books. In the UK, e-books are subject to VAT but paper books are not and I cannot figure out why."

    The answer is.... When you place "digital" "internet" or "e" on a product, it suddenly escapes comprehension of lawmakers around the world who were born long before the digital age and have little hope of understanding.

    In a rational world VAT would apply to your ebook but your ebook would cost 99p or less.

     

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  10.  
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    Karim, May 29th, 2012 @ 1:18pm

    Been here...

    Just want to say, I had a similar wtf situation when trying to decide between a particular soft-cover ancient programming book on Amazon, and what should have been the far cheaper electronic version. The e-book was a mere few cents cheaper than the old-school kill-the-trees edition, so I took the plunge, hurt the environment, and as soon as I got the confirmation email I downloaded the electronic one. Without paying. And I will do it again. The end.

     

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  11.  
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    Jonathan Ward, May 29th, 2012 @ 1:43pm

    E-book pricing is good

    I think that e-books are just as valuable as printed books, just in different ways, and see no reason for publishers to lower prices and hurt both their e-book business and their printed book business.

    Some people are clamouring for e-books to be about a quarter of their current price, but does that mean four times as many people will buy the book? Not likely.

    I think lowering prices would be a bad move on publishers' parts and, overall, a bad move for the publishing industry, as quality would decline as financial returns dwindled.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    The Logician (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    Re: E-book pricing is good

    I do not agree. Pricing is most effective when done according to a product's marginal cost. In the case of digital goods, that marginal cost is zero. Therefore, to be economically correct, the prices of ebooks must be lowered to reflect that marginal cost. Many authors have already done so, pricing their ebooks at $1 to $2 at most, and seen far greater sales as a result. The reason this is so is because people are more likely to buy at lower prices. You must price according to what they deem reasonable, not you. If you do and your product is of high quality, you will far exceed in sales volume what you would have made at a higher price.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    Re:

    Electronics and tax laws always seem to end up coming out funny.

    When I was running a small computer repair shop, I read up on the local provincial laws. Software designed for the masses, like Windows, Office, Photoshop, etc. were taxable. Also, any work performed on that software (Virus removal, installation, configuration, etc) was also taxable. But custom made software, like a database or inventory system designed to work for your company only, was tax exempt as well as any work performed on it.

    The estimation charge to diagnose and come out with a repair quote was tax exempt, but if you gave the go ahead to complete the work, it becomes taxable.

    Backing up your system, is tax exempt, as is the media that your backup is made to. BUT, if you want a 2nd copy, it's taxable. Which also leads to the other issue that when I purchased the media from my supplier, I had to pay the tax on the media in addition to the (piracy) tax. Which leads to a bunch of paperwork to try to reclaim the tax credits.


    The thing that pissed me off the most, is that after I did all the reading on the tax system in relation to my business. I still had costumers that would argue until they were blue in the face that I was ripping them off and that service work was tax exempt. Which was true in almost every other service industry EXCEPT in relation to personal computers.

    There was also another more off topic story where one of my previous employers insisted that a personal computer was a tool, therefor he should be allowed to sell and service computers out of a light industrial zone (Like an automotive repair shop that also sell tires), as opposed to being forced into a commercial zone. He fought the city on that for a few years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    GMacGuffin (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 2:03pm

    Re: E-book pricing is good

    Some people are clamouring for e-books to be about a quarter of their current price, but does that mean four times as many people will buy the book? Not likely.

    Well, actually, quite likely. Case in point from a few weeks ago, where dropping the price of Paulo Coelho books to .99 raised sales to between 4,000 and 6,500%.

    http://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/articles/20120504/06511518781/paulo-coelho-ebook -sales-jump-way-up-thanks-to-099-sale.shtml

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 2:09pm

    Re: E-book pricing is good

    I think that e-books are just as valuable as printed books, just in different ways, and see no reason for publishers to lower prices and hurt both their e-book business and their printed book business.


    Except that e-books are on the whole, less valuable than physical books. For me, anyway. They have some advantages, but their disadvantages are pretty significant. They're different products anyway -- you own a physical book, but you only rent an e-book.

    There's no way that I would pay physical book prices for an e-book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    bob, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:16pm

    And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    The common claim around here is that consumers and the vast majority of the people are well-served by getting rid of all or almost all of copyright. So that's why we're told the RIAA or the MPAA are anti-consumer.

    But that's wrong on so many levels. First, there are far more people who want strong copyright than want all of the loosey-goosey interpretations of fair use pushed around here. Most of the world doesn't use P2P networks but most of the world would want control of the images they take with a camera. If some big multi-national came along and snarfed their photo for an ad campaign, I bet 99.9% of the world would want to deploy copyright to protect their rights.

    Second, I think it's still fair to say that the vast majority of the world is happier when the stores are operating. I know it would be a big mistake to start a riot and loot my neighborhood supermarket because the supermarket would go out of business. Oh sure, I would enjoy the free stuff for a few minutes, but the long term consequences would be horrible. I continue to believe that, aside from some strange dreamers, a vast majority of people are happy they can go to the theater, plop down a few bucks, and see hundreds of millions of dollars of entertainment on the screen. It's a great deal. The people want the system to continue to operate despite the dreams of everyone around here that major motion pictures will be made when someone puts up a tip jar.

    So while I'm sure there will be disagreements between authors about the contract points, I think there are even bigger misrepresentations around here. You can go and dream that one author writing one letter means that copyright is bankrupt, but I think that the world is generally happy with copyright the way it is.

    (And if they're not, they know they can use copyright to create their own experiments as the open source crowd has done. Open source only exists because copyright is strong.)

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    Re: E-book pricing is good

    There's really not much else to say aside from: you are wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:28pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    Needs more "Big Search" and at least 5 more fallacies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Richard (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    Open source only exists because copyright is strong.

    A common misconception.

    Without copyright open source would simply apply to everything. This is not a theory. It is an observation of the reality of software before copyright was applied to it. (Remember, in the early days of computing, software was not thought to be copyrightable.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:47pm

    Re: False Advertising

    Thing is, they do repesent authors, so long as they are mega successful.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Re: False Advertising

    Represent*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 3:01pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    That's a pretty broad brush to paint a whole community with.

    I'm fine with copyright laws, I'm however not ok with them being taken to such extremes that it hurts the public domain, gives certain entities the power to take away or limit my rights, censor legal websites, infringe on other peoples copyrights, and bankrupt legal business models/companies.

    Copyright laws are fine in my book, abusing them and pushing for ever stricter ones however is not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    Just wanted to add that I'm in favor of copyright reform, not copyright abolishment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 29th, 2012 @ 5:12pm

    Re: First, there are far more people who want strong copyright ...

    Such as?



































    (crickets)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Karl (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 6:15pm

    Re:

    So why can't we launch an anti-trust suit against the RIAA, MPAA, and/or Author's Guild for attempting to crush any and all competition from their industries and to maintain high royalties and/or other fees associated with accessing products through them?

    As a matter of fact, some people are:
    Supreme Court Allows Music Price-Fixing Suit to Go Forward

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 7:48pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    I think you are paywall. If Big Search would paywall the Big Search, we would paywall be more paywall than if we Big Search the paywall.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2012 @ 8:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: False Advertising

    I thought you were going to correct it to 'resent' ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    techflaws.org (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 9:59pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    So that's why we're told the RIAA or the MPAA are anti-consumer.

    No, but because of their despicable actions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 10:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: False Advertising

    That would be half true. They represent, the successful ones, and they resent the less successful ones(for not making them as much money, naturally).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    dpeek (profile), May 30th, 2012 @ 3:38am

    Well given he's signed to AmazonEncore what do people expect of him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Richard (profile), May 30th, 2012 @ 3:40am

    Re: E-book pricing is good

    I ... see no reason for publishers to lower prices and hurt both their e-book business and their printed book business.


    That's monopoly thinking. In a free market you lower prices to near marginal cost ...or go out of business.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2012 @ 4:29am

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    There were two guys that were dating. One was called Benjamin and the other was called Brad. Benjamin loved Brad so much that he decided to get a B tattooed in each of his buttocks. Then one day Brad got home and saw his beloved Benjamin all naked showing his back. Brad started crying in despair. He asked Benjamin amidst tears "Benjamin, who is BoB?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2012 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    And Benjamin said, "Why, he's paywall bob. He's a very special kind of asshole."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    John Jones, May 30th, 2012 @ 3:28pm

    Re: And you and the EFF don't represent "consumers" or the "people" either

    The topic addressed in this article was not copyright, but that one author who has become very successful in spite of the roadblocks placed by the trade publishing houses sent a very thoroughly letter to the DOJ in support of their lawsuit against five major publishers and Apple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), May 30th, 2012 @ 8:01pm

    Re: Re: easy answer

    In an equally rational world the the dead tree book would have a higher VAT because of value added by typesetting the manuscript, adding the binding, each step of design of the hard cover and the wrap cover with the half naked woman on it because there always has to be a half naked woman somewhere on a hardcover wrap of indeterminate though likely jailbait age, the value add of transportation, storage and on it goes.

    Whereas an ebook is copied and pasted into Adobe InDesign from the saved copy of the dead tree book, saved and duplicated in ebook format ready to do what computers are wonderful at doing which is mindlessly creating an infinite number of copies to send out. So far no value at all added except, perhaps the file format which is another thing computers do extremely well and for free.

    (And, at some point get one or tow of our ACs here to scream "piracy", "think about the children" and some such drivel and tell us how well supported authors are by Big Publishing. )

    Of course in a rational world VAT like sales taxes wouldn't exist but that's a debate for another time. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Chargone (profile), May 31st, 2012 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    they probably added a special exception for paper books at some point for one reason or another that didn't carry over.

    just a guess though.

    (here in NZ, GST, which is roughly equivalent, applies to Everything, with the exception of personal imports under a certain value. (the reason being that the Businesses collect the tax and pay the difference between the GST they charge and the GST they pay other businesses. foreign businesses are, understandably, not expected to do this, but for big stuff you have to pay it yourself Anyway.) this results in listed prices being, in the usual course of events, Including GST, not plus GST. right up until you go to buy furniture or aeroplane tickets. (the former costs so much that it looks Massively cheaper without the tax, and the latter... let's just say the airlines have got in trouble more than once due to their highly dubious advertising practices reguarding what you Actually end up paying once they charge their many and various different fees and surcharges and deposits and levies and who knows what... all of which are pretty much standard and thus SHOULD, by rights, be part of the base ticket price...)

     

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  37.  
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    rowena cherry (profile), Jun 17th, 2012 @ 11:28am

    DOJ and the copyright grab

    Copyright law gives two little-appreciated rights to copyright owners. The right to set a price for their work. The right to exercise or not exercise all or part of their copyright.

    The Request For Relief by the DOJ appears to open the door to giving both those copyright rights to Amazon. What is more, the wording is so vague that the copyright arrogation is not limited to the rights formerly belonging to authors of the ebooks that are the subject the complaint.

    Look at d.


    VIII. REQUEST FOR RELIEF
    104. To remedy these illegal acts, the United States requests that the Court:

    a. Adjudge and decree that Defendants entered into an unlawful contract, combination, or conspiracy in unreasonable restraint of interstate trade and commerce in violation of Section 1 of the
    Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. (squiggle that I don't have on my keyboard) 1;

    b. Enjoin the Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys and their successors and all other persons acting or claiming to act in active concert or participation with one of more of them, from continuing, maintaining, or renewing in any manner, directly or indirectly, the conduct alleged herein or from engaging in any other conduct, combination, conspiracy, agreement, understanding, plan, program, or other arrangement having the same effect as the alleged violation or that otherwise violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. (squiggle that I don't have on my keyboard) 1, through fixing the method and manner in with they sell e-books, or otherwise agreeing to set the price or release date for e-books, or collective negotiation of e-book agreements, or otherwise collectively restraining retail price competition for e-books;

    c. Prohibit the collusive setting of price tiers that can de facto fix prices;

    d. Declare null and void the Apple Agency Agreements and any agreement between a Publisher Defendant and an e-book retailer that restricts, limits, or impedes the e-book retailer's ability to set, alter, or reduce the retail price of any e-book or to offer price or other promotions to encourage consumers to purchase any e-book, or contains a retail price MFB;

    e. Reform the agreements between Apple and Publisher Defendants to strike the retail price MFN clauses as void and unenforceable; and

    f. Award to Plaintiff its costs of this action and such other and further relief as may be appropriate and as the Court may deem just and proper.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    icon
    rowena cherry (profile), Jun 17th, 2012 @ 2:11pm

    DOJ and the copyright grab

    Copyright law gives two little-appreciated rights to copyright owners. The right to set a price for their work. The right to exercise or not exercise all or part of their copyright.

    The Request For Relief by the DOJ appears to open the door to giving both those copyright rights to Amazon. What is more, the wording is so vague that the copyright arrogation is not limited to the rights formerly belonging to authors of the ebooks that are the subject the complaint.

    Look at d.


    VIII. REQUEST FOR RELIEF
    104. To remedy these illegal acts, the United States requests that the Court:

    a. Adjudge and decree that Defendants entered into an unlawful contract, combination, or conspiracy in unreasonable restraint of interstate trade and commerce in violation of Section 1 of the
    Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. (squiggle that I don't have on my keyboard) 1;

    b. Enjoin the Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys and their successors and all other persons acting or claiming to act in active concert or participation with one of more of them, from continuing, maintaining, or renewing in any manner, directly or indirectly, the conduct alleged herein or from engaging in any other conduct, combination, conspiracy, agreement, understanding, plan, program, or other arrangement having the same effect as the alleged violation or that otherwise violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. (squiggle that I don't have on my keyboard) 1, through fixing the method and manner in with they sell e-books, or otherwise agreeing to set the price or release date for e-books, or collective negotiation of e-book agreements, or otherwise collectively restraining retail price competition for e-books;

    c. Prohibit the collusive setting of price tiers that can de facto fix prices;

    d. Declare null and void the Apple Agency Agreements and any agreement between a Publisher Defendant and an e-book retailer that restricts, limits, or impedes the e-book retailer's ability to set, alter, or reduce the retail price of any e-book or to offer price or other promotions to encourage consumers to purchase any e-book, or contains a retail price MFB;

    e. Reform the agreements between Apple and Publisher Defendants to strike the retail price MFN clauses as void and unenforceable; and

    f. Award to Plaintiff its costs of this action and such other and further relief as may be appropriate and as the Court may deem just and proper.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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