A List of Things Scott Turow Doesn't Care About Bewares Publishing

turowquoteScott Turow woke up from his slumber recently to bark nonsense about Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads on the Authors Guild blog, before being thoroughly eviscerated in the comments.

Undeterred, Turow sought out the considerably larger platform of the New York Times’ Op-Ed pages on Monday to decry The Slow Death of the American Writer.

On reading the latter, my first thought was: if Scott Turow didn’t spend so much time hating Amazon and pretending self-publishing didn’t exist, maybe he wouldn’t be so depressed.

It’s easy to poke fun at Scott Turow’s views. A child could de-construct his arguments, while laughing at how a practicing lawyer is unable to grasp the definition of the word “monopoly.” If you want a proper debunking of his Op-Ed, Techdirt do a good job, but I think there’s no real point attempting to engage Turow on this issue. His hatred of Amazon and fear of change is completely clouding his logic.

What bothers me about Turow’s obsession with Amazon and his opposition to change is not his blatant disregard for the facts (or the definition of words), it’s that he allows this Luddism to become all-consuming, blinding him to the issues that really matter to writers.

Even if we granted Turow his brain-dead thesis, we still have time before Amazon becomes The Great Evil and exclusively powers its website with the tears of exploited writers.

But there’s a bunch of really awful stuff happening right now that Turow ignores, and has been ignoring, since his term as Authors Guild President began.

Price-fixing 

When rumors first broke that the Department of Justice was investigating collusion to fix prices between five of the six largest trade publishers in the US (Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette) and Apple, Scott Turow called for the investigation to be dropped.

He didn’t even want to find out if price-fixing was taking place. Turow, a practicing lawyer, didn’t want to know if federal law was being broken.

When the DOJ determined that collusion to fix prices had indeed taken place, and reached a settlement with three of the five publishers (the other two would settle in time), Turow opposed the settlement.

Penguin’s purchase of Author Solutions

Penguin purchased Author Solutions – the largest and most reviled vanity press in the world – in August last year for $116m. Scott Turow and the Authors Guild have been completely silent on the fact that Penguin is now in the business of scamming inexperienced authors.

Simon & Schuster’s Vanity Press

Big Publishing likes nothing more than chasing each other’s tails. As soon as Penguin started shaking that shady money tree, Simon & Schuster just had to have a piece. Scott Turow and the Authors Guild haven’t said one word about Simon & Schuster opening a vanity press and hiring Penguin-owned Author Solutions to run it, nor have they commented on Simon & Schuster bribing writers to lie about their scammy operation.

Digital Rights Grabs

Random House was caught red-handed forcing unfair terms onto writers via their new digital-first imprints which included no advance, assignment of all rights and subsidiary rights – even though they had zero plan to do anything other than publish an e-book edition, no meaningful reversion clause, and shady Hollywood accounting that would transfer all their normal business costs onto the author, to be deducted from royalties. Scott Turow and the Authors Guild had this to say: nothing.

Those are just the biggest stories that have happened recently, and I could easily have mentioned publishers forcing increasingly onerous contract terms on writers (and being disingenuous about what they mean), agents doing the same with representation agreements, publishers grabbing rights they never paid for, and agents moving into publishing (some of whom are aping the worst contract terms from large publishers) – all of which Scott Turow and the Authors Guild have been silent on.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a progressive president of the Authors Guild? Imagine them saying something like this:

There are at least two ways that e-books represent a favorable development in my mind. Those who have the cash to invest in one of these devices find that any place with a wireless connection can become a virtual bookstore […] There is no trip to the store, no waiting for the online retailer to get it to you through the mail, factors that tend to temper the impulse to buy. For these reasons, I suspect that e-readers increase book purchases among those who own the devices. That’s obviously encouraging news to authors.

Or this:

Far more important, e-books and e-readers have the potential to dramatically lower the barriers to getting published, and to allow books that traditional publishers aren’t willing to back to compete on a more even footing.

Who was this open-minded sage? Scott Turow, in his first letter to Authors Guild members, September, 2010. I wonder what happened…

But hey, maybe I should give Scott Turow a bit of a break. He seems a bit down. I don’t know how much time being President of the Authors Guild eats into his schedule, but I suppose it’s not nothing. And, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t receive any compensation for that role.

In any event, most of the myopic screeds published by the Authors Guild aren’t written by him. Turow often provides a juicy Amazon-bashing quote, and pens the quarterly letter to members, but the regular blog posts are written by the Executive Director of the Authors Guild, Paul Aiken.

paulaikensalaryPaul Aiken is quite the mystery man. Aside from references to his participation in the Google Books Settlement, there’s little information on him available online. Even the Authors Guild doesn’t provide a bio for the guy who has been their Executive Director since 1996.

I can tell you this though, documents filed with the IRS show that Paul Aiken receives $180,000 a year for his services.

Scott Turow is clearly too afraid of change to keep up with the latest developments. His New York Times piece demonstrates that he’s unaware of this new thing called self-publishing – which is enabling thousands of writers to pay bills and make a living from writing, in many cases for the very first time, thanks in no small part to Amazon.

With Scott Turow’s seeming inability to keep up with change, is it too much to ask that Paul Aiken help him out a little bit?

Given that Paul Aiken has earned over half a million dollars from the Authors Guild in the last three years, is it too much to ask that he be even somewhat aware of the paradigm shift which has taken place in that time?

Considering Paul Aiken receives annual compensation over seven times what the average Authors Guild member earns from writing in a year, is it too much to ask that he take another look at the horrible Back-In-Print program run by the Authors Guild – that funnels its own members into the scammy clutches of iUniverse?

In the Authors Guild’s defense, that partnership was originally agreed in 1999 – long before Author Solutions purchased iUniverse, dismantled what was reasonable service, and rebuilt it in their own exploitative image. But the world, and self-publishing, has moved on considerably since then.

It would be great if the Authors Guild could do the same and stop providing fresh victims for the world’s biggest vanity press.

It would be fantastic if the Authors Guild provided information to their members on the full range of options available to them for getting their works back into print, instead of just providing one terrible option: Author Solutions.

I don’t think it’s asking too much, given that, (a) the Authors Guild was established “for the purpose of serving and protecting the interests of authors” (b) Paul Aiken gets paid $180,000 a year to be the Guild’s Executive Director (c) he is currently doing a crappy job of “serving and protecting” the interests of its members.

But I guess Scott Turow doesn’t care about that.

UPDATE: Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler have posted a rebuttal to Scott Turow’s Op Ed that’s worth reading. One thing that jumped out at me: the Authors Guild is now blocking comments on their blog posts. Needless to say, censoring debate is… just the kind of “Soviet-style repression” Scott Turow is worried about!

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.