Authors Guilded, United, And Representing… Not Authors

from the what's-their-real-agenda dept

One of the more Orwellian aspects of the book world is the number of publisher advocate groups calling themselves Author This and Author That. The Authors Guild, Authors United, the Association of Authors’ Representatives… their devotion to protecting the interests of authors is right there in the names, right? No further inquiry necessary.

That’s the idea behind the misleading nomenclature, anyway. But even a cursory glance at the behavior of all these “author” organizations reveals their true priorities and actual allegiances.

Let’s start with the Authors Guild, which claims to “have served as the collective voice of American authors,” and which describes its mission as “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.” The Authors Guild even proudly notes that it “has initiated lawsuits in defense of authors’ rights, where necessary.”

Leave aside the wooly talk about creating community. How does the collective voice of American authors, the supporter of working writers, the advocate for the rights of writers, go about fighting for that living wage? Especially given that publishers are making more money from digital books than ever, and sharing less of that money with authors than ever.

Well, the organization has periodically mentioned in passing that the shockingly low lockstep 17.5% legacy publisher digital royalty rate “needs to change,” so there’s that. Sometimes a spokesperson expresses his or her “hopes” for a little more fairness. And recently they did manage a whole blog post on the topic. But that’s all. Occasional words; zero deeds. And likewise regarding a host of other obvious, longstanding, outrageous legacy publisher abuses such as life-of-copyright (forever) terms, twice-yearly payment provisions, draconian non-compete clauses, and impossible out-of-print clauses. Pro forma words and practiced complicity.

But does all this mean the Authors Guild is lying when it says it sometimes initiates lawsuits?

Not at all. The organization did sue Google and Hathitrust over digitization (the first suit was settled; in the second, the Authors Guild lost). Leave aside the merits of those suits; I think they were wrongheaded, but that’s not the point. The point is that when the Authors Guild really wants to throw down, it throws down — just never against legacy publishers and the Rich Relationships™ by which they systematically screw authors (in fact, in the Google suit, the Authors Guild fought alongside the Association of American Publishers).

Indeed, at the moment when the Authors Guild had maximum leverage over legacy publishers to extract some actual digital royalty and contract provision concessions — during Hachette’s contract standoff with Amazon — the organization surrendered that leverage and threw all its Collective Voice of American Authors weight behind Hachette. Even though Hachette’s position was costing authors money; even though Amazon had repeatedly offered to compensate any authors who were being harmed by the standoff.

What’s doubly bizarre about the Authors Guild’s reflexive anti-Amazon animus is that Amazon stands for so much of what the Authors Guild claims to want. A pristine example: as I write this, the organization bleats on its home page that “Half of Net Proceeds is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books,” while two lines down it calls on the government to investigate Amazon…for paying exactly that fair royalty!

Not only does the Authors Guild refuse to stand up to publishers; it actively supports them (while censoring the authors it claims to represent). I challenge you to review the organization’s public positions and find a way to distinguish them from what you would expect in a legacy publisher press release. I’m being literal here — legacy publishers and the Authors Guild actually do cite and cross-post each other’s press releases. Here’s an example — the Authors Guild, approvingly posting on its own site a press release from John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, who in the release approvingly quotes Scott Turow, then president of the Authors Guild. It’s really that incestuous between the New York Big Five and the Collective Voice of American Authors.

If the Authors Guild really wanted to “advocate for fair contracts,” it would support self-publishing, which even more than Amazon publishing is empowering authors with the first real competition the industry has ever seen — a 70% digital royalty rate (four times the lockstep legacy standard); control over packaging and other business decisions; faster time to market. Yet there’s nothing on the Authors Guild website about how to use KDP, Kobo, NookPress, Smashwords, or any other self-publishing resource. Nothing about, the most comprehensive breakdown available about where authors are making money in Amazon-, legacy- and self-publishing. The only “self-publishing” resource available through the Collective Voice of American Authors has been a notorious scam outfit called (naturally) Author Solutions (a relationship the Authors Guild finally terminated in May).

(Novelist David Gaughran has been tireless in exposing Author Solutions’ shady practices — see the preceding links — and the refusal of establishment publishing media to follow up on his work is at least as revealing as anything else in this article about where true power lies in the industry. Within that refusal there’s a great story for an intrepid journalist about concentrated media ownership, how advertising dollars buy silence, and why establishments are so reluctant to examine their own shadiest practices.)

Authors United is no different. Against abysmally low digital royalties, Authors United might offer up a bit of pro forma tut-tutting. But the organization’s only real action — in the form of petitions, monster ads in the New York Times, media blitzes assisted by pet stenographers, letters to boards of directors, and letters to the Department of Justice pleading for protection for publishers — is against the company that has sold more books than any other, that has opened up publishing to more authors than ever before, that pays higher royalties than any legacy publisher, that is making more money for more authors than ever before, that pays authors once a month instead of twice a year, that gives authors unprecedented access to sales data, that almost single-handedly ushered in the digital book revolution — Amazon.

All of which is more than a little weird just on the face of it. But it gets even weirder — and more telling — when you consider the animating principles Authors United claims in the anti-Amazon screed it recently sent to the Justice Department:

[We can’t have a company using] its technologically supercharged monopoly powers to manipulate and supervise the sale of books and therefore affect the exchange of ideas in America…

The government has the responsibility to maintain an open, competitive, free, unsupervised, and undistorted market for books…

Our larger point is that we believe the Antitrust Division needs to reassess…overwhelming market power [regarding] any business that has established effective control of a medium of communication…

We believe these steps would restore freedom of choice, competition, vitality, diversity, and free expression in the American book market, while ensuring that the American people—as individual free citizens and as a democratic community—determine for themselves how to take advantage of the new technologies of the 21st Century…

Lofty principles! But given that Amazon’s self-publishing platform enables all authors to publish whatever they like and leaves it to readers to decide what books they themselves find beneficial, while the New York Big Five (no concentrated market power in a group with a name like that!) has historically rejected probably 999 books for every one they deem worthy of reaching the public, a few questions present themselves. Such as:

  • Who has really been manipulating and supervising the sale of books and therefore affecting the exchange of ideas in America, and who has really established effective control of a medium of communication — an entity that screens out 99.9% of books, or one that has enabled the publication of any book?
  • Who has really been running an uncompetitive, controlled, supervised, distorted market for books — a company dedicated to lower prices, or a group calling itself the Big Five that has been found guilty of conspiracy and price fixing
  • Who is really restoring freedom of choice, competition, vitality, diversity, and free expression in the American book market — an entity that consigns to oblivion 999 books out of a thousand, or one that enables the publication of all of them?
  • And who is really ensuring that the American people determine for themselves how to take advantage of the new technologies of the 21st Century — an entity responsible for zero innovation and dedicated to preserving the position of paper, or one that has popularized a new publishing and reading platform that for the first time offers readers an actual choice of formats?

Measured against every one of the lofty principles Authors United claims to champion, the Big Five is a historical disaster; Amazon, a reformist boon. The organization decries Amazon’s alleged abuse of its publisher suppliers (monopsony!), yet offers not even a word about how legacy publishers consistently abuse their own suppliers — the group commonly known as authors. Against legacy publisher abuses, silence; against the company that offers an alternative to those abuses, coordinated, well-funded attacks by a stable of celebrity authors (accompanied by admittedly hilarious claims to be “not taking sides“).

Follow any of the links above to the various positions Authors United has taken, and repeat that handy “how do these positions differ from those of any legacy publisher?” exercise. You’ll see almost complete redundancy between the positions of Authors United and those of, say, the Association of American Publishers. They might as well be the same organization. The only real difference is that one honestly declares that it represents the interests of publishers, while the other dishonestly pretends to represent the interests of authors.

Now let’s look at the Association of Authors’ Representatives, which, judging from what it has named itself, one might reasonably imagine is in the business of representing the interests of…authors.

So: when the Justice Department and 16 States Attorneys General charged the New York Big Five with colluding to fix prices, did the AAR cheer? No. Instead, they lobbied the Justice Department on behalf of the publishers. And when three of the Big Five settled with the Department of Justice, did the AAR, say, offer a public statement on behalf of the authors whose interests price-fixing had damaged? No. Instead, it protested the settlement “in the strongest possible terms” in a letter to the DOJ…on behalf of the publishers.

But when Penguin and Random House merged — inarguably increasing the already Olympian clout of the Big Five relative to authors, narrowing author alternatives, concentrating market power, diminishing choice, empowering a company notorious for scamming authors, etc., did the AAR write to the Justice Department to oppose the merger? Did the organization take any meaningful action at all?


And has this organization that purports to represent authors ever protested “in the strongest possible terms” any of the longstanding, widespread, abusive publisher practices noted above?

Against actual legacy publisher abuses, tepid words at best. In support of legacy publisher collusion, The Strongest Possible Terms.

All of which gives the lie to the oft-repeated Authors United claim that Amazon “retaliates” against authors. There’s no evidence at all for this charge; in fact, were it true, it’s hard to imagine how the books of every Authors United member, even those of floridly outspoken Authors United pitchman Doug Preston, would be available on Amazon, despite all the crazy accusations and anti-Amazon advocacy. These “author” organizations demonstrably have no fear at all of crossing Amazon. But the one group they never cross is the New York Big Five. Which is about all you need to know about where real retaliation, and real power, lies in the book industry.

Sometimes making a name misleadingly vague can serve an organization’s tactical interests — think the National Security Agency (it wouldn’t do to call it the National Surveillance Agency) or the Chamber of Commerce (can’t very well call itself the Big Business Lobbyist). Other times, organizations deliberately choose names that are the opposite of reality — calling a surveillance law the Freedom Act, for example, or a group dedicated to preventing gay marriage calling itself the National Organization for Marriage. It’s the latter tradition in which all these allegedly author-centric groups belong. To call out their real priorities, their primary affiliations, in their names would be to reduce their effectiveness.

Now look, there?s nothing wrong with lobbying the government on behalf of big publishers. The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, after all, and it doesn?t say those grievances can?t be self-serving or even that they have to be sane. I just wish all these organizations pretending to advocate for authors would call themselves something a little more honest. Power in publishing is already horrendously lopsided. Publisher lobbyists masquerading as author champions only makes things worse.

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Companies: amazon, association of authors representatives, authors guild, authors united

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Comments on “Authors Guilded, United, And Representing… Not Authors”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: they are no different than the riaa or mpaa

Not quite, the RIAA and the MPAA do represent their members. The authors’ organizations do not represent their members, they actually represent people who are exploiting their members. Any author who joins such an organization should expect no sympathy.

If authors are silly enough to sign the abusive contracts offered by the Big Five, then they have nobody to blame but themselves. If authors cannot club together and make an organization that truly represents their own interests, then again, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

Authors need to stop whining and start acting in their own rational self interest. If they do not do that, then they will get called on it. Nobody should get sympathy for self-inflicted injuries.

Barry Eisler (profile) says:

The AG's "Fair Contract Initiative"

The AG is being subjected to a lot of scorn (and also being defended) just now in connection with it’s “Fair Contract Initiative.” For anyone who follows the publishing industry or is otherwise extra-curious, Passive Guy has a good post on this with a lot of diverse comments, many of them noting why the organization is held is such contempt by so many writers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Authors...

You have sold your soul to the devil. You made your bed, please lay in it.

And for you consumers. Go ahead keep giving the content captors money to keep the content you want captive.

Yes I know… its really hard to stop having some entertainment for a little while to teach them a needed lesson, poor little babies!

ottermaton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dear Authors...

what about educational materials like textbooks and such?

And therein lies a HUGE problem. Students are a captive market who are required to purchase these books, often (usually?) at hundreds of dollars each. Then every year they’re “updated” with no meaningful change in content just so the used book market is destroyed, eliminating that option for a student as well.

For myself, I flat out refused in to purchase textbooks in my last several semesters, choosing to pirate them (when available, going without when not) instead and feeling absolutely zero guilt about it. I even encouraged other students to do the same.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Dear Authors...

Yes and no. Similar to the recording industry, it’s only recently that there was any way to publish without being forced to sign everything over to the gatekeepers. If you wanted your book published, or your music heard, you had to go through them, and they took advantage of this to demand insanely one-sided contracts.

For people who were forced into the system that way, forced to hand over everything if they wanted to be heard/read, I do feel some pity, assuming they haven’t turned around and started defending the same parasitic system like fools, whether from self-interest or just buying into the rot the parasites have told them.

For those that do so these days though, when there’s so many other options, many that don’t require you to hand over your rights or a massive cut of the profits, for them I have no pity at all. They either didn’t do their research, or bought into the sales pitch without looking at the details, but either way, they signed into a broken contract when they didn’t have to, and deserve everything they get as a result.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dear Authors...

I do not discount the difficulties in getting your own distribution platform up and running in what seems to be a veritable monopoly, especially in the early days. I only feel just enough pity for those that have had their contracts broken by those they signed with, which is likely 100%, but had no recourse.

Those contracts are pretty much evil… they knew what they were signing and if they didn’t… well why should I feel sorry for someone so bedazzled by the bullshit in their face that they could not be bothered to look after their own ass.

steell (profile) says:

Re: Dear Authors...

You need not forgo written entertainment, the web has tons of self published fiction just waiting to be read. And some of it is quite good! Whenever I discover a really good story on the web, I send the author $5 – $20 just to show my appreciation. But I’ll be damned if I am going to pay over $5 for an ebook from Amazon or any other distributor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dear Authors...

Yep Agree there, I try to support indie’s as much as possible, for games, for books, and for music. I don’t give as much as I would like, but I am only one person with the usual bills and family to take care of. I do what I can. But yea, I do actively avoid certain publishers like EA and UBIsoft for example. They have not seen a drop of my $$$ for any product containing DRM.

I have not played Starcraft II yet because of how it started. But I will be fine, there are tons of other cool things to play, listen to and read just like you say!

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder what the shills have to say here. You know, the same shills that are just so so concerned about authors. The same shills that don’t think it’s OK for anyone to make any money off of authors. Are they going to criticize publishers and the ‘author’s’ guild for all the money they make from authors? Or am I just going to hear nothing but crickets …

fgoodwin (profile) says:

Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

TechDirt (and the rest of the tech community, as far as I can tell) never met a pirate it didn’t love.

So online theft, copyright violations, etc. are not problems, as far as they are concerned. Where is your righteous indignation when pirates copy wholesale the intellectual property of others? Is that how you advocate for authors’ rights, by advocating for the “rights” of pirates?

Oh, I forget, you don’t recognize “copyright” as a right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

Oh, I forget, you don’t recognize “copyright” as a right.

Copyright is not a right, but rather a regally created privilege. It is not necessary for authors and other creators to make money, but rather a hangover from a replacement for censorship, which usefully regulated competition in industries where batch production was the only way of producing reasonably cheap copies. It did not exist when copying was by using a pen to copy a book, and bulk copying meant a few dozen students producing their copies of a book from dictation. It is not needed where copy costs next to nothing, and is carried out on an on demand basis.
If what you produce attracts enough fans, they will support your efforts to create new works, and free copies sent to other people is a way of creating a few more fans.
Copyright has become a huge drag on freedom of expression because a few large legacy player wish to retain their old business models, and regain control over what works are put in front of the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

This is another good reason to abolish copy protection laws. If they are to exist they should only exist to the extent they serve a public benefit. No one is entitled to copy protection privileges. But you want them to be something else, something to help copy protection holders (mostly because that helps distributors), which is exactly why I think they should go. No one is entitled to such privileges and it’s bad economics to enforce them unless the social benefit outweighs the social costs because social burdens are bad.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

TechDirt (and the rest of the tech community, as far as I can tell) never met a pirate it didn’t love.

Total strawman. We’ve frequently pointed out that it’s reasonable to go after actual infringers. Just last week we wrote about a case in Sweden where it seemed perfectly reasonable to go after a guy who was hosting tons of content.

In the past, we’ve talked about how Jammie Thomas was wrong and should have taken a deal offered to her by the RIAA, because she clearly infringed. If you can’t even get your basic facts right…

Where is your righteous indignation when pirates copy wholesale the intellectual property of others? Is that how you advocate for authors’ rights, by advocating for the “rights” of pirates?

How is it “hypocrisy” to claim that these groups are not representing authors?

And, Fred, I recognize that “nuance” and “details” may go right over your head, but how is it “hypocrisy” to argue — as we do — that fighting against what your fan base wants is a waste of time. We are not arguing “in favor” of piracy, but in the fruitlessness of trying to stop it, and in favor of ways that allow artists to make more money by embracing their fans and offering them more ways to make money.

How is that hypocritical unless you deliberately misunderstand what we write?

Oh, I forget, you don’t recognize “copyright” as a right.

Oh, I forgot. You don’t deal in facts, you deal in lies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

Also lets not confuse ‘rights’ with ‘privileges’. Rights exist outside of government. Copy protection laws require government and therefore are a privilege. We advocate for authors’ rights but not necessarily for extra privileges. Copy protection is a privilege. If it is to exist it shouldn’t exist because such privileges are what authors (or distributors) want but only because they serve a public interest.

Barry Eisler (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

Forget about the misleading “never met a pirate you didn’t love” cliche intro, or the bullshit notion that anyone is advocating for piracy as a “right”… if your point is that the Authors Guild’s efforts against piracy somehow redeem all the pro-publisher activities I discuss in my article, your response is at best awfully tangential.

Anti-piracy efforts don’t help authors because piracy doesn’t hurt authors:

The whole notion that piracy is a zero-sum game, that someone who downloads a book for free would have paid full price for it if the free download were impossible, is antithetical to common sense and everyday experience. Anti-piracy efforts are emotion driven and ignore logic and evidence.

I say all this, by the way, as an author who is regularly informed by the AG et al that he should be terrified of and enraged by piracy. Yawn.

With all that, you want to rebut my post by talking about how the AG hates piracy? How about a response a little more on-point than that?

Marion Gropen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

“Anti-piracy efforts don’t help authors because piracy doesn’t hurt authors”

This is as silly as the people who say that all pirated copies are lost sales.

It is obvious on its face that some pirates would have bought copies if they couldn’t get them illegally.

There are far more types of books than most people, even people in the book business, realize. It’s also obvious on its face that piracy will affect the sales of different types of books in different ways.

So, yes, for some types of books the publicity value of piracy outweighs the actual lost sales.

For other types of books, it doesn’t.

But here’s the thing: it’s not up to the pirates to decide if the free copies are better for the author or other people who have invested in the book.

The only fair option is for the people who did the work to make the decision about whether they want to give that work away, or insist upon being paid for every copy.

I don’t get to insist that you do what you do for free. You don’t get to insist that I do.

And the people that claim that you can make money other ways than by selling copies? Totally clueless. MOST creative workers cannot.

That might work in some areas (some types of coding, for example). But who the heck is going to pay a novelist for anything other than the novel?

And what about all the other people who spend hundreds of hours on the book? Editors (there are 3 radically different types, btw), proofreaders, cover designers, and on and on? Should they have to work for free?


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

Was wondering what the response would be from those defending the parasites, looks like you’re going for the classic ‘Look a distraction!’ ploy, mixed with enough strawmen to fill a dozen cornfield, always a nice choice.

I notice you didn’t actually offer any rebuttals to anything raised in the article, so I’m guessing you do not, or can not, argue against the point raised, that despite having ‘Authors’ in their names, the various organizations listed do not in fact have the well being of authors as their primary concern, and instead care more about ‘protecting’ publishers, often at the expense of authors.

As for the rest of your strawmen and lies, by all means, feel free to present evidence backing your claims that TD supports piracy. Keep in mind that ‘admitting that it exists, and isn’t going to go away, ever’ is not supporting or endorsing piracy, so if that’s your argument, don’t bother.

As for ‘copyright’ being a right? It isn’t. It’s a government granted monopoly, a means to an end(theoretically), something quite distinct and different than actual rights.

cacrawford (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is TechDirt

Piracy hasn’t hurt book sales. Those facts speak for themselves. What hurts Big 5 authors far more directly are the tiny percentages they receive from their publishers.

In the battle of litigation (Big 5) vs. innovation (Apple, Amazon, Google), the latter is going to win the war. The old ways are over. Embrace or die. I’m guessing the Big 5 executives realize this, which is why they’re trying to steal as much from their authors as they can before they go under.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon has been good for Author’s but is only going to remain good for them as long as it faces robust competition. They’ve made it clear in their general business strategy and internal communications that this era of high royalty rates (which also shifts all the upfront costs to the author) is only going to last until they’ve achieved the dominant market position at which point they will tighten up and exert more control. Even something like the KDP unlimited program shows how anti-competitive and author harming they are willing to be.

Barry Eisler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

AC at 10:47, could you be more specific about how you know that Amazon’s “general business strategy” is ultimately to “tighten up and exert more control”? And could you cite some of the “internal communications” you’re using as the basis for this judgment? It sound like you’re privy to some pretty interesting inside information and I’d be grateful if you’d share it.

As an author who’s published novels pretty much every way you can, including through KDP, I’m not sure what you meant that “high royalty rates…shifts all the upfront costs to the author.” This is like saying a do-it-yourself car wash shifts all the work to the driver. Well, yeah, I guess, but that’s the point–if you want to keep the money, you take on more of the work. Suggesting there’s a “shifting” of costs from some natural order seems a misleading way of describing a perfectly reasonable business model–and one that’s injecting helpful competitive pressure into the industry.

On the topic of sharing the evidence behind your assertions: can you share your data on how “KDP unlimited program shows how anti-competitive and author harming they [Amazon] are willing to be”? My sense is that KU demonstrates the opposite, but again it seems you have information I’m not privy to.

Beyond all that… it’s always so weird to hear people observing things like “Amazon has been good for Author’s but is only going to remain good for them as long as it faces robust competition.” The New York Big Five faced no competition before Amazon, so yes, you’re quite right, we can conclude that organizations facing no competition are historically bad to authors. But why would anyone focus on what Amazon might theoretically do in the future while ignoring what the Big Five is actually doing right now?

I wrote about this bizarre phenomenon and what it means over four years ago. It never goes away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

which also shifts all the upfront costs to the author

I have news for you, authors have always born the costs of writing a book upfront, at least for their first few books. The exceptions are gossipy ghost written memoirs of famous people, and successful authors getting an advance for their next work. In the latter case, they have already made the publisher more money than any advance, and so are really being loaned money from the publishers take from their previous works…

Ted Weinstein (profile) says:

Alignment of interests

Most of what Barry says is spot on. But accusing AAR, AG and AU of “masquerading” is misguided.

As he and others clearly document, AU is created and dominated by authors who have a vested interest in the current publishing system. For AG, though, while they certainly have an old-fashioned view of the publishing world they have also been a consistent antagonist to publishers on contract issues, even if not loudly or publicly enough for Barry’s liking (or my own). [For those who don’t know, AG has a contract review service for members, which consistently recommends a wide range of revisions to standard publishing terms that would strongly improve the balance in authors’ favor, but of course AG does not and cannot actually negotiate publishing contracts for its members.]

And AAR is an association of literary agents who have a legal, moral and fiduciary responsibility to represent their author clients, which sometimes involves getting them traditional publishing deals and other times means helping them direct publish through Amazon, Smashwords and other outlets.

I resigned my memberships in both AG and AAR several years ago because of my strong disagreement with their public stances on many of the issues Barry so comprehensively highlights above. But accusing either of them of “masquerading” as author advocacy groups is sloppy thinking and sloppy language; tarring all of these organizations with accusations of perfidy is wrong. Much more accurate and useful is to highlight the areas where these organizations’ long-standing missions have developed potential tensions and conflicts in the new world made more readily possible by digital publishing.

Barry Eisler (profile) says:

Re: Alignment of interests

Hi Ted, I think we agree on the gist of my arguments, so in the spirit of quibbling just at the margins:

I don’t agree that “masquerading” is an unfair term. Look at some of the examples I listed in the penultimate paragraph of the article–the National Organization for Marriage, for example. Given that the purpose of the organization is to prevent gays from marrying, I would argue that the name is a fraud–even though yes, a NOM representative might point out that they are indeed “for” some forms of marriage. Similarly, if the “Authors Guild,” which, to repeat, proclaims itself the Collective Voice of American Authors, were instead to call itself “The Guild of Authors for the Preservation of the Publishing System as it Currently Exists and Possible Improvement for Authors Only at the Margins,” I would agree that there’s no masquerade going on. But “Authors Guild”? “Collective Voice of American Authors”? I call bullshit (as well as embarrassing preening and narcissism).

As I said in a comment at The Passive Voice:

“FWIW, I don’t think anyone’s really arguing that the AG does only bad things for authors on every micro level. The argument is more that whatever positive micro-things the organization might offer authors are outweighed by the macro. Yes, the organization supports authors–but only within the confines of a system that is designed and maintained primarily for the benefit of publishers. The AG will help authors as long they don’t threaten the system itself–because the organization is dedicated most fundamentally to the preservation of the system, not to authors themselves.

“It’s easy to overlook this distinction–as easy as it is to miss the forest for the proverbial trees. To try another analogy: the AG is a great advocate for fish freedom–but only within the confines of the existing aquarium by which big publishing profits. If as a fish you agree with and support the aquarium, you can swim anywhere you like, and the AG will definitely help you find the best corners to feed in, that nice spot by the filter with the extra-oxygenated water, whatever. But what matters to the organization in the end isn’t the health of the fish; it’s the preservation of the aquarium. For anyone who longs for the ocean, that doesn’t feel like a good (or particularly honest) deal.”

I think these points are equally applicable to the other named organizations. I’m fortunate to know several outstanding literary agents (you’re one of them), but the existence of outstanding literary agents isn’t relevant to the question of the overall purpose and proclivities of the AAR, or whether the name it’s given itself is fundamentally accurate or fundamentally misleading.

Village Idiot (profile) says:

“The government has the responsibility to maintain an open, competitive, free, unsupervised, and undistorted market for books… “

Where does copyright fit into this vision?

I love ebooks. I almost always prefer a PDF copy of a book over one made from dead plant material. The difference really is immense when I am using a technical reference and need to perform a word search. Paper book indexes are far from comprehensive.
With that said, I will never purchase an ebook from Amazon. Being locked in to their proprietary reader and really only being a glorified renter rather than an owner is just too much for me. Every time I Google to find a book, I take the information from the Amazon page and find it available elsewhere, hopefully directly from the author. If they only sell through Amazon, I consider other options…

Marion Gropen (profile) says:

Re: Publishers -- very poor at selecting books to publish

Think about this for a moment. It should be obvious that most publishers would not have been able to do for Rowling what the right publisher did for her.

Publishers are not interchangeable. The ones who passed were right to do so, because they accurately identified her audience, and what would be necessary to reach that audience — and knew that it was not their audience or their skill set.

This argument is common — and it’s always a reflection of someone who knows little about what a publisher really does.

Joe Konrath (profile) says:

But accusing either of them of “masquerading” as author advocacy groups is sloppy thinking and sloppy language; tarring all of these organizations with accusations of perfidy is wrong.

Authors United is indeed masquerading as an author advocacy group. They represent a minority of status quo authors, refuse to engage in any sort of debate or defense of their position, and utilize the media to push an agenda that will most definitely hurt authors–themselves included.

As for the Authors Guild, we could argue about the merits of getting into bed with the enemy that controls you, and trying to change things through appeasement rather than conflict, but then don’t call yourself a guild for authors. On the AG website is a lengthy pronouncement on how they protect free speech and a defend the “digital arena” from censorship, when they just wrote to Congress in an effort to resurrect a ridiculous offshoot of SOPA.

Might I suggest they call themselves the Vichy Guild?

As for the AAR, I just blogged about how they went against their own Canon of Ethics.

At what point do actions become perfidy, Ted?

Much more accurate and useful is to highlight the areas where these organizations’ long-standing missions have developed potential tensions and conflicts in the new world made more readily possible by digital publishing.

If you take a hundred school tests without cheating, but cheat on ten of them, you aren’t allowed to call yourself honest. You’re a cheater. How is is accurate and useful to focus on those ninety where no cheating occurred? We’re supposed to reward someone for being honest? We’re supposed to praise the Authors Guild for doing a few of the things it’s supposed to be doing?

Digital publishing, which you mentioned, is not the only issue the Authors Guild is struggling with. Forever-term contracts have been around for decades. So have non-compete clauses. Where were they on this thirty years ago? Only now they start blogging about it, without doing anything substantive on issues that have plagued writers for my entire lifetime?

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Honorable Mention- GAG

I have to add a note regarding my favorite bunch of morons: the Graphic Artists Guild, which has operated basically as a satellite of the Copyright Alliance. Again, it’s one more group claiming to represent the interests of artists and authors, while in reality are active supporters of the MPAA and the other AA publishers. (This blog about them-

The good news is that it’s probably the most incompetent and least effective of all the so-called “guilds” and my guess is that they could probably hold their annual convention in a restaurant booth these days. Of course, that raises a few questions about how they can continue filing with the Department of Labor as a viable labor union 501(c)5 and qualify for non-profit status with the IRS. But I suppose they have to keep up appearances, since the many hundreds of thousands of dollars in reprographic rights money they’ve received over the years from overseas collection societies is based on the assumption that they are a legitimate organization supporting artists and authors. I also should mention that they were a plaintiff in ASMP’s suit against Google Books, that was settled last September. You need some minimum amount of cred to get free money via court settlements.

Marion Gropen (profile) says:

Author Interests

The article above misses an important point.

Amazon does not now, and never will, have authors’ interests at heart. It doesn’t need authors or books much at all. It has a track record of squeezing publishers’ margins, including self-publishers, as its power increases.

The AAG IS acting in the interest of all authors when it points out that monopsony power is bad for all publishers, including self-publishers, and for all of their authors.

Amazon’s power over authors and publishers is enormous and growing. Unlike past monopsonies (such as Ingram), Amazon doesn’t even need books much, and can do just fine if it squeezes enormous numbers of authors out of the business of writing.

I agree with you that Amazon’s expansion of the marketplace for books has been a good thing in many ways.

For example: ebooks never made the break into a commercially viable format until Amazon launched the Kindle (with a TON of help from big publishers, btw).

Another example: Amazon’s expansion of the marketplace has made online retailing a viable path for all self-publishers, and has greatly expanded the viability of the “long tail” of book sales.

BUT none of that changes the core point: Amazon is so powerful now that it can do some truly nasty things to our marketplace.

Worse, it has a TRACK RECORD of squeezing even self-publishers in order to increase its own margins. It’s only the friend of authors when they happen to have aligned interests. It doesn’t need them, and it certainly doesn’t care about them.

Get over your prejudices about copyright, publishers and other stuff, and look at THIS point.

The AAG is right on this one.

M. Alan Thomas II (profile) says:

The Author’s Guild has bragged about how prestigious (read: bestselling) their presidency and governing council are. I think that, for those authors, they’re being well-represented in many respects: They’re the ones who have benefitted the most through the current system and have the most to lose if consumer purchasing power starts distributing more to the self-published long tail than to them. The problem is not that groups like AG represent the publishers but that they represent the lucky few authors anointed by the publishers rather than the majority.

(They also represent agents of writers’ estates, which is not inherently a bad thing—help actively managing an estate is at least likely to result in continued publication vs. abandonment—but obviously estates have no interest in incentivizing anything other than longer postmortem terms.)

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