Matthew Yglesias wrote an interesting column yesterday in Slate entitled, Leave Penguin Alone: Who cares if book publishers are colluding with Apple to raise e-book prices?. It takes a look at the recent Department of Justice announcement that they will be pursuing legal action against Apple and the “Big Six” of publishing for price-fixing.
Overall, it’s a good piece, with the inflammatory title masking the pro-indie message of the article, which is: no one cares about the demise of Big Six publishing at this point. Good news and good riddance, in other words. But, Yglesias says, the DOJ is beating a dead horse,
the Justice Department’s notion that we should fear a book publishers’ cartel is borderline absurd, on par with worrying about price-fixing in the horse-and-buggy market.
He also rightly dismisses Scott Turow’s comments in defense of Apple and his paean for the Big Six, as well as his attacks on Amazon. Turow, president of the Author’s Guild, is such a shill for Big Six (with whom he’s made millions) that he might as well have those little lines drawn down the side of his mouth like a hand puppet.
(There’s a wonderful, rip-him-a-new-one post by Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler about Turow’s latest screed here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/03/barry-joe-scott-turow.html and David Gaughran’s position is pretty clear in his blog post on the matter, Scott Turow: Wrong About Everything.)
I agree with everything Yglesias says to this point, but…
The point he misses is the impact on authors who have already signed contracts with the Big Six.
The price collusion that the DOJ is investigating led to the “Agency Model” war of 2010, when Amazon backed down from Bix Six when they threatened to yank all titles. Amazon agreed to let the Big Six charge more than $9.99 for books (often much more)…but the publishers never increased the author royalty rate, despite almost zero overhead and zero return costs. Authors make 17.5% on all titles, just like in the old days when publishers had to take back every unsold book from Borders and Costco. The estimated take on ebooks by the publishers today? Upwards of 50%.
In some cases, the Big Six have claimed ownership of non-existent e-rights to books they bought in the 70’s and 80’s because of the total nature of rights ownership. The authors who signed those contracts have now lost access to their own backlist in perpetuity…they’ll make the industry standard royalty rate of 17.5% forever.
If there are any IP attorneys reading this, please correct me if this is wrong, but publishers, even if they go bankrupt, will hang on to those rights for dear life, because they could resurrect themselves as new epublishing ventures and start making money the next day using legacy rights they nicked off authors 30 years ago.
So, who cares about Apple fixing prices with the Big Six?
Only every author who ever published a book with them.