Authors to Protest Amazon

M.J. Rose Email 03.13.01

The Author's Guild is mad as hell that Amazon.com is still advertising used books alongside new ones, and is going to do something about it.

More than two months after notifying Amazon of its distaste over the practice of enticing customers to choose the less-expensive used books, the Author's Guild plans to file a formal protest.

It's not that authors want their readers to pay more. The problem is that under tradtional agreements between writers and publishers, there is no way to pay royalties on used book sales.

What particularly irks authors is that thousands of preview copies publishers send out to review sites that are showing up for sale as used copies at Amazon.

In December, the Guild sent a letter to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos on behalf of its 8,000 members, expressing "grave concern that Amazon’s new method of marketing used copies of recently published titles will significantly harm sales of new copies of those titles." The used titles are advertised with blue boxes enticing customers to click for the cheaper offerings.

But the blue boxes remained.

At the Guild's annual meeting last week, executive director Paul Aiken said that a formal protest would begin soon. He refused further comment, saying it would be premature to divulge any specific plans at this point.

Amazon said it is willing to listen to the Guild, but doesn't appear inclined to stop selling used books.

"We absolutely care about the Author's Guild and hope that we can find a middle ground because we basically believe everything we're doing is for the good of authors and publishers," said Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Schaefer. "Selling used books helps get new authors new readers, and anything that encourages customers to keep reading and keep buying books, we feel that is a good thing.

"We absolutely intend to listen to the Authors Guild to listen to them, and hopefully to work with them."

Caroline Leavitt, author of Coming Back to Me, said that while used books sales do encourage new readers, she thinks it's odd to promote a new book for one price and then say, "Oh, and by the way, you can get one right here cheaper."

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Fact and fiction: Citing poor sales of its fiction e-book titles, AtRandom.com -- a division of Random House -- has decided to push nonfiction.

But there's still fiction to be found from other publishers. HarperCollins’ e-publishing imprint -- PerfectBound -- has just released a new e-book by best-selling novelist Joyce Carol Oates.

Faithless: Tales of Transgression (PerfectBound) is a collection of 21 short stories. Included is an exclusive interview with Oates in which she discusses her views on America's gun culture, ponders Bill Clinton as con man and reveals how her "addiction" to word-processing returned her to the typewriter.

In addition, the Faithless short story "The High School Sweetheart: A Mystery," is now available to be downloaded free from the PerfectBound site.

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Come and get 'em: Baen Books is offering some its titles in electronic format, for free.

The Baen Free Library allows readers to read the e-books on the site or download them in one of several formats. There are no conditions or strings attached. The publisher is not even requiring readers to give their e-mail addresses, which must have the marketing department turning green around the gills.

Baen's Eric Flint said the publishing house hopes to prove that the losses authors suffer from piracy will almost certainly be offset by the additional publicity.

"Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.," Flint said.

Most authors, Flint said, are pleased about borrowing and lending "because they understand full well that, in the long run, what maintains and (especially) expands a writer's audience base is that mysterious magic we call word of mouth."

Baen authors have the choice of making their books free or not.

The free library is not the first innovative idea at Baen Publishing. Baen's Webscriptions was one of the original subscription services, where a reader could buy a month's offerings "bundled" at a lower price.

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No bookstore needed: Greg Raver-Lampman is out to make authors websites pay off, not just in a marketing sense but in tangible dollars. His new company, SignedCopy.com, is a way for authors to eliminate the middle man by cutting out online bookstores.

The system Lampman has designed allows authors to keep the profits that otherwise go to online bookstores. Those stores currently get 40-50 percent discounts from publishers. This is the same discount authors can obtain of their own titles from their publisher.

According to Lampman, with this new system, the author makes not only the profit from selling the book but also the royalties earned buying the book from the publisher.

Lampman first launched SignedCopy.com to market his own book, Magic and Loss, which was published by a relatively small house. But along the way he discovered selling books is not economically feasible for most authors who are not already in business.

"As a bit of a techno-junkie, I decided to use technology to break down this last barrier between reader and author," Lampman said.

His plan is to allow authors to work together as a kind of virtual co-op in order to defray the setup costs and fees. SignedCopy.com’s fee is $1.25 per title and it processes all the credit card payments. Authors are responsible for shipping and handling of the books themselves

Publishers will be watching because, while they don’t mind selling a few dozen copies to an author, they don’t encourage practices that infringe on their relationships with big booksellers.

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How to market your book: Anthony and Paul Tedesco, brothers and co-authors of Online Markets For Writers (Henry Holt & Co./Owl Books), aren’t just selling their writing on the Internet. They are giving a lot of it away for free.

The MarketsForWriters.com website and its free, bi-weekly newsletter, are designed to provide both inspiration and information for today's new and established writers.

Included will be resources such as pay-and-policy information for online markets. There will be columns about writing, interviews with top online writers and editors, advice on negotiating the best electronic rates and rights, tips on adapting print writing so it sells on the Internet, and other services for writers.

The authors believe that fostering relationships with writers and giving them a lot for nothing will have a greater payoff than foisting quick sales onto customers/readers. Free quarterly e-book supplements to update and enhance the print book will begin on March 21.

While the authors don't own 100 percent of e-rights for the book, they did retain 100 percent e-version rights. The publisher, Holt, shares e-book percentages, and they are sorting out doing an e-book edition.

"We're a good example of authors/writers working and advocating for a bigger piece of the pie," said Anthony Tedesco. "Thanks to the Internet, we can become publishers. The online markets book and the e-books are about writers doing what they love and making a living from it."

M.J. Rose is the author of a new novel and a non-fiction book about e-publishing.

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