An Open Letter to the DOJ on Ebook Price Fixing

The ebook price fixing story had a new development this week. America’s leading literary agents’ organization – the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) – penned an open letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) opposing the terms of the settlement reached with three of the publishers named in the Apple anti-trust suit.

I won’t go into the details of how wrongheaded that letter was. It has already been systematically taken apart by Joe Konrath, Bob Mayer, and Dean Wesley Smith.

This post is from 15 May 2012. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links but the comments remain open.

Also worth reading are Joe Konrath’s subsequent dismantling of another open letter to the DOJ written by Simon Lipskar (a board member of the AAR), as well as the comments made by Passive Guy on the same topic.

If you have any doubt whose side (most) agents and the AAR are on (clue: it’s not writers’), then you need to read this guest post by Ann Voss Peterson on her exploitative Harlequin contract, the subsequent reaction to Ann’s post by romance agent Scott Eagan (read the comments following that piece) and agent Steve Laube, as well as Joe Konrath’s filleting of the latter.

I have heard privately from one agent who is opposed to the AAR’s position on ebook price fixing, but I haven’t seen any public postings to that end. If they exist, please point me to them and I will amend the above characterization (but I fear I won’t have to).

Gail Hochman, the President of the AAR, sent a copy of that open letter mentioned at the top to all members of her organization, along with an accompanying note calling on her fellow agents to both write similar letters and encourage their clients (i.e. writers) to do likewise. Their explicit aim is to influence the judge presiding over the suit.

From Gail Hochman’s letter to AAR members:

The DOJ must read and report to the judge who must ultimately approve the settlement each communication it receives commenting on the proposed settlement. For that reason, in addition to the AAR’s letter we urge all AAR members to express their views on the settlement to the DOJ and we hope you will also urge your clients to do the same.

Your note might address whether you feel the settlement will foster competition and well-being in the literary marketplace, or the opposite. There is a time limit for such communications, so your messages should be sent as promptly as possible. (The address is on the AAR’s letter.)

We believe it is tremendously important that we all be heard on this most significant issue. We believe the more letters from publishing professionals that are received, the better the chance of affecting the judge’s final decision.

While I’m not a member of the AAR, I suppose I am a “publishing professional” in one sense. I will gladly answer Gail Hochman’s call. A copy of the letter I’m sending on Thursday morning regarding the ebook price fixing case is below.

If anyone wants to add their name to it, please make a note in the comments (or email me privately) and I will include your name.

It would be great if there were other writers’ names to add, but make no mistake, this isn’t a petition. If mine is the only name at the bottom, I’m sending it anyway.

Some authors may be reticent. I can understand that. Many of you may be seeking representation or a publishing deal and may be afraid of stepping on toes. That’s fine. I don’t really care about that stuff so I’m happy to take any potential flak.

Open Letter to the DOJ on the Ebook Price Fixing Case

To: John R. Read, Chief, Litigation III Section, United States Department of Justice, 450 5th St NW, Suite 4000, Washington DC 20530

Dear Mr. Read,

I’m sure you will have already received plenty of letters regarding the terms of the proposed settlement; I would like to apologize at the outset for adding to the pile.

I felt it necessary to contact you, however, as I fear that the multiple letter-writing campaigns aimed at influencing the presiding judge may give the impression that authors and publishers (and readers) are uniformly opposed to the terms of the settlement.

As an author and publisher (and reader) I can assure you that this is not the case.

Unlike some of the publishers named in the suit, I’m not part of a major media conglomerate that owns newspapers and television stations around the globe. I’m a one-man operation who set up a publishing company to release my own books.

I’m far from unique. There are thousands and thousands of writers just like me – writers who couldn’t get their books published by the conventional route who then self-published their work and reached thousands of readers.

A few short years ago, this was not a viable path. Self-publishing was expensive, difficult, and risky. The rise of e-books enabled thousands of writers like me to bypass the middlemen – literary agents, publishers, distributors – and sell direct to retailers and readers. Without the presence of all these middlemen taking a cut, I can sell books very cheaply and still make a good profit.

This disintermediation benefits authors and readers directly. Readers have more books to choose from, and when they choose books published by independent authors, they are almost always significantly less expensive than titles from the defending publishers.

It’s similar to what has transpired in many businesses since the rise of the Internet. All kinds of middlemen – such as travel agents and insurance brokers – have gone from being indispensable to optional, and face the according challenging business conditions.

Publishers and literary agents are no different. Writers no longer need them to reach readers. Instead, they can publish their own work, sell books at cheaper prices, and make more money.

The kind of disruption caused by the Internet is often messy. Not everyone comes out a winner. As such, vocal resistance is to be expected, especially from those who do quite well under the status quo.

One such group are best-sellers like Scott Turow, the President of the Authors Guild – an organization that claims to represent the interests of writers. Another such group are literary agents like Gail Hochman, the President of the Association of Authors’ Representatives – an organization of literary agents, which also claims to represent the interests of writers.

To be clear, neither organization speaks for me. And, in my opinion, it’s fear of change, fear of competition, that drives literary agents and publishers (and best-selling authors) to support the Agency model and disingenuously claim it benefits readers.

I don’t know if the publishers named in the suit (and Apple) colluded to fix prices, however, unlike the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives I don’t believe that means that we should simply throw our hands in the air and move on. I believe the judge is perfectly capable of making such a determination.

If the chain of events laid out by the Department of Justice is accepted by the court (and the case seems compelling to this layman), then I also don’t believe that the terms of the proposed settlement are too onerous. Law-breaking should be punished, not swept under the carpet.

Personally, I believe that the actions the defending publishers and Apple are alleged to have undertaken, and the subsequent defense of those alleged actions by the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors Representatives (and the respective defendants) are motivated by fear.

The world is changing and they don’t like it. Amazon, as the prime mover in facilitating those changes, is the primary target of their ire. I don’t share their apparent hatred of Amazon. From where I stand, Amazon has done more to make self-publishing a viable path than any other company (something which benefits authors through increased paths to publication and readers through a greater selection and lower prices).

I don’t think Amazon has done this because they have any favorable disposition towards self-publishing per se, rather I think that this was a (happy, for me) by-product of their support of the digital revolution and their customer focus.

More than any other company, Amazon made e-reading attractive, widespread, and cheap. This has come at the expense of reading books in print – a market which was controlled by companies such as the publishers named in the suit.

What is replacing it is something very different: an open market with thousands and thousands of competitors for the defending publishers (and those competitors are able to compete largely because of Amazon’s self-publishing platform – KDP – where independent authors can set their own prices and reach readers all over the world).

This, I submit, is the real reason these publishers (seem to) hate Amazon: because Amazon is creating, for the first time, real competition in publishing by facilitating and encouraging the switch from print to digital, and giving new competitors the tools and platform to really compete with the existing players.

It seems the defending publishers sought to slow this transition by forcing higher prices on Amazon and their customers (and by extension, the customers of every other retailer). In my opinion, this shows contempt, both for the readers who purchase their books and for the authors whose sales have suffered as a result of these artificially higher prices.

I trust the DOJ will pass on this letter to the presiding judge and that the only voices heard in relation to the proposed settlement won’t be those orchestrated by the global media conglomerates, which own a controlling interest in some of the defending publishers.


David Gaughran, Author and Publisher (and Reader).

Update 1 – 25 May 2012:

The letter is in the mail with almost 200 co-signers. My sincere thanks to everyone.

Update 2 – 23 July 2012

The DOJ has quoted from our letter in its official response to the public comments on the ebook price fixing case, in court papers filed today, which you can read here. Well done, everyone.

Update 3 – 7 September 2012

Judge Cote has approved the settlement. It looks like our letter had a genuine effect, so be proud of yourselves, and thank you again. The ebook price fixing case continues against Apple.

David Gaughran

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.

265 Replies to “An Open Letter to the DOJ on Ebook Price Fixing”

  1. If all you really care about is being able to self-publish and sell YOUR book on Amazon (hence the term “VANITY press”), and you don’t care if there is no filter between the hordes of wanna-be writers and the reading public — not to mention no bookstores to go to, in the place where you live, with actual people in them — welcome to your brave new world of infinite schlock and personal isolation. Enjoy.

    1. So that means I’m not intelligent enough to decide for myself what to read. I need someone in New York to tell me what to read. WRONG!!!!I’m a voracious reader. I use kobo for audio and ebooks (1000) and amazon for ebooks and print (5000) and bookstores both used and new (3500) print books. In my personal library. I know how much my own indie books cost me $2.99 ebook costs me about75 cents and the more books I sell the more the cost I spread out over the first book. I hire my artist and editor a formater and the rest I do myself since I have a background in technical writing , book publishing, and marketing. My print book cost me $5.00 and I sell it for $9.99. I’ve sold way more than the big 5 publishers average amount of sales- 12 over the life of the average print book. (Per their own testimony in court.) They have no clue why a book sells nor who will read it. I love making my book affordable to the average consumer of cozy mysteries. I make a fair profit and my readers are happy. I have changed a reader’s life after her husband dies and that was worth all the money in the world. I say the more writers the merrier. No one being told no one reads a woman detective, no one reads a black heroine, no one reads Native American heroes, no one reads a story about a mom sleuth. Really !! All those writers have be #1. People read what they choose- not what someone in a glass tower in New York tell them.

  2. In fact when someone doesn’t understand after that its up to other people that they will help, so here it happens.

  3. Thanks for clearly calling out the gambit.
    Please add my name to your list and Around The World Publishing LLC

  4. I have a day-job career background in managing business membership associations. It’s interesting to compare AG with AAR, as to the likely uniformity of self-interest among their respective memberships — and the alignment of that self-interest with the letters written “in behalf of” those members. I believe the AAR letter probably represented the self-interest of the literary agent members as they are all middle-men and -women threatened by transformational change and self-publishing competition. By contrast, I believe AG contains a lot of mid-list authors (not well-represented by Scott Turow), many of whom have backlists and noses for fresh opportunity. The story to watch for (which will be hidden from view as long as possible) will be the erosion of membership (and revenue) in AG. Business people, even authors, vote their self-interest. Expect AG to shrink in the year ahead — no matter what the final outcome of this litigation.

  5. Awesome letter, David. It is too late to sign? Please use my pen name, Mira Shannon. And you’re right about writing our own letters too. If you ever find an e-mail address, please post it, I think there would be an onslaught.

    Thank you for doing this!

  6. I already emailed the DOJ directly but please add my name to this newly-minted petition. And thanks for writing!


  7. Fantastic letter. By all means, please add my name to the list: Daniel J. Meadows, Author & Publisher. Great job. Thanks for this.

  8. You can add my name, David.
    Stephen Galvin. Independently published on Amazon KDP.
    Thanks for doing this.

  9. David, thank you for writing this wonderful letter. I’d be grateful if you’d attach my name:

    Steven Mohan, Jr., author, publisher, reader

  10. Dave, your letter is excellent, and the only reason I didn’t jump in earlier was that I was going to write one myself. But since my time is better spent writing my next best-seller ;-} and I think you are going to make a significant impact with the many names thereon, I would love you to add my name too.

    You can sign me,
    Patrice M. Fitzgerald, Esq.
    (admitted to the Connecticut Bar, 1985)
    self-published author, independent press owner

  11. The DOJ accepts letters until mid-June. No need to send it anytime soon, unless you’re tired of collecting names. 🙂

  12. Thank you for this brilliant letter. Please add my name to the list too. Claire Merriam Hoffman, Avid Reader and Writer

  13. “Amazon’s practice of tageting the very titles that drive profitability of our entire industry and pricing them several dollars below cost was clearly leading to the demise of the independent book store, hastened the loss of Borders…”

    Yes, Amazon’s practices did ‘hasten the demise of Borders,’ but that couldn’t have happened had Borders better managed the company. That, they can’t blame on Amazon.

    Add me to the list.

  14. David,

    Well said! Please add me to the list if you haven’t sent it yet:

    Robert J. McCarter, Author and Publisher

  15. David,

    Excellent letter. Please add my name to it. Christine Kling

    p.s. Looking at the comments that have come in from publishing professionals, they all seem to miss the point entirely. This issue is not about the Agency Model helping or not helping publishers and whether or not Amazon will grow into the beast they fear if they don’t get their way. It is about the allegations of collusion. All of the arguments here cite how terrible it would be if Amazon takes over. So, they argue, the big 5 should be allowed to break the law so something bad doesn’t happen. Huh? It’s like in small towns in the southern US when the Nazis apply to march in the local parade and the locals want to deny them the right to free speech, or when bad guys get off because the cops didn’t use proper protocols in a search. The thing about the law is that we don’t apply it or not based on the possible outcome. If booksellers and publishers and agents want to beat Amazon at this game (and I would cheer them on in their efforts), they must do so without breaking the law.

  16. In response to Peter Glassman:

    ‘everyone I know in publishing was very upset at Amazon’s use of printed books as loss leaders (e.g. a product sold below cost to get customers to shop with them and hopefully buy other — profitable — products)’

    I’m sure you were upset at seeing efficient competition take your sales. But does the world owe you a living?

    ‘you seem to feel that e-books should be less expensive than printed books, as though the cost of printing and binding were the major cost of producing a book. It’s not. The major costs are editing, design, promotion, marketing, and sales’

    Are you serious? How come most eBooks are MORE expensive than the printed copies? Do you honestly expect anyone to believe that the cost of paper, print, printing, distribution and storage to and from printer to warehouse to bookshop to customer doesn’t actually cost money. And all that aside from other factors such as spoilage. So again, how come most eBooks cost more?

    ‘converting a printed book to an e-book, is not as simple as simply uploading files — unless the publisher doesn’t care what the book looks like on the various e-book platforms.’

    It’s not that simple (though it hasn’t stopped some idiot publishers from trying), but it’s not that hard either. I do it myself. Give me a clean scan and I can build an eBook novel in a matter of hours. And that’s by digging into the code, not simply relying on conversion software.

    ‘An e-book, on the other hand, is simply a license to view someone else’s intellectual property. No physical property changes hand and neither the reseller nor the consumer ever take actual ownership of the e-book.’

    Good. I have a house full of books (not literally full, but thousands of them). I have an iPad and will soon buy a Kindle so I don’t have to buy more shelves. And guess what, when I’ve finished my novel I won’t have to get rid of it to make room for another one. My e-readers are freeing me from physical paperbacks and allow me to reserve my shelf space for my antiquarian books and hardbacks. I will always buy the hardbacks of my favourite authors, but in most cases I won’t want to own a small bundle of yellowing printed paper – I’ll just want the story.

    ‘Amazon themselves made this patently clear when they removed every copy of George Orwell’s 1984 from every Kindle overnight.’

    And how many times has it happened since? Did we all stop flying the last time an aircraft crashed?

    ‘even when publishers were selling e-books at a set “wholesale” price, they weren’t actually selling them to Amazon, but merely allowing Amazon to act as their sales agent. Amazon never paid for e-book until if and when a sale went through’

    Have you never heard of ‘sale or return’? If a physical book doesn’t sell in the store, it gets sent back. Why on earth should Amazon pay for an e-book in advance?

    ‘And no one is accusing publishers of colluding to set actual prices, they’re claiming they colluded to have the right to control what their books are sold for.’

    Yes, that IS what they’re being accused of – price fixing. You have the right to sell your property at your price, but when you get together as an industry and all agree to sell at the same price, that’s illegal.

    1. Stephen, thank you for taking the time for this reasoned reply. I’m still musing over the last writer’s conference I went to, in which a panel of agents and publishers spoke as if there was no such thing as an e-revolution. The panel could have fit into 1990 quite easily, promising aspiring authors things that they simply don’t come up with these days. To pretend that publishers spend a dime promoting any but the most well-known authors is disingenuous at best. Not to mention the disappearing (disappeared?) advances and failure to take on new mid-list authors.

      1. Thank you for your thank you, Terry. I hope I didn’t sound too bad tempered. On the issue of marketing, it does seem that most mid-list authors are left to their own devices, with publishers stepping in to exploit any success they might achieve. From what I know of the business a new author in a selling genre might be given a boost initially, but if they don’t make an impression very quickly they’re thrown back in the pond with the other hopefuls. To capitalise on success and cut failing ‘product’ does make good business sense, but Publishers shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve generated little goodwill for themselves in doing so.

  17. A well-spoken post, and some equally thoughtful comments (even from those who disagree). I will happily sign on, and thanks David.

    Scott Gray — Writer, editor, publisher.

  18. As an as-yet-unpublished author, please allow me to add my name to this letter.

    Davy Jones
    (yes, really)

  19. Very well done. I particularly like this analogy: “All kinds of middlemen – such as travel agents and insurance brokers – have gone from being indispensable to optional…” And in the not too distant future, the same will be true of music producers, the cable companies, and, yes, book publishers. The wise businessman looks to the future and takes advantage of upcoming (and ongoing) changes in the marketplace, rather than burying his head in the sand until he suffocates.
    Please add us to your list of signatures, thanks!
    Maria E. Romana,
    Research Triangle Publications

  20. Great letter, David. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Please add my name as well.

    Ruth Nestvold, Author

  21. Can anyone please present a well thought out, coherent argument against Amazon?

    I just read Bobproehl’s letter, and it still ignores a very important item that no one on the side of trad-pubs has ever wanted to touch.

    How is the fear of what Amazon MIGHT become when they’re currently offering 35%-70% royalties, in any way-shape-form, worse than what the Cartel is now…rights-grabs, 17.5% royalties going as low as 2.4% if you read Ann’s post at Konrath’s site. Sneaky-ass contracts that keep you from writing anything for yourself or with another company while they lock you in to a contract for life and then drop you when sales are bad while refusing to give you back rights?

    Do any of you have any clue or concept of what business is like? Please, honestly, I want to know. Address those points. Anyone?

  22. Well put David. It’s about time readers can choose what they want to read instead of being told what they can read. Amazon has really opened up the market for freedom of choice. Please add my name: Micki Street (Perepeczko) – author.

  23. Dear David,

    While I appreciate your well-considered letter, I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree with you. As an author and a bookseller, I firmly believe that the rogue pricing models put forward by Amazon will ultimately prove to be damaging for the book industry as a whole, not just for the Big 6 (or for brick and mortar stores, for that matter).

    Amazon’s pricing model on eBooks has never been designed to take sustainability into account. If you follow the track record of the company, since its beginnings but particularly since the beginnings of its eBook sales, you’ll notice a severe reticence to reveal any information regarding profits. This is because Amazon’s policy has long been to sell most books, eBooks and print, at a loss in order to gain market share. Even the Kindle has been sold at below its production costs to drive out the competition.

    It is my belief that Amazon is poised to potentially have an even tighter hold on publishing than the Big 6 ever have. Without sounding too 1984 here, imagine a landscape for readers and authors where the only way to reach each other is through one company, one concerned solely with profit. Amazon displays books to its customers based on prior sales numbers (which is to say that you or I are less likely to randomly appear in someone’s search than, say, James Patterson or Scott Turow). They’ve shown themselves willing to drop authors, publishers and books on a whim, or by glitch.

    I’d also like to call up a couple counter-examples to the argument that free-wheeling prices result in higher diversity of titles and lower prices for consumers. In much of Europe, the a version of the agency model is strictly adhered to, so much so that Amazon is not allowed to provide any discount on new books. All books are sold at a publisher-decreed list price. These markets have a higher number of titles released per capita and lower average pricing than the US. To draw this example into starker relief, witness Australia, whose government removed these anti-discounting laws a decade ago. The country witnessed a precipitous decline in the number of titles released, as well as the number of bookstores. This was accompanied by a rise in average prices. These deleterious effects on Australia’s book industry continue to trend.

    As Amazon moves to take over all aspects of the supply chain in bookselling, they pose a potential threat not just to publishers, but to authors self published and otherwise, as well as, ultimately, readers. While the steps taken (or not taken) by the defending publishers and Apple may not be the solution, I would strongly suggest that those of us, like yourself, who care deeply about writers and readers, consider the possibility that Amazon is not the boon they seem to be and remember that, rather than existing as a free and open marketplace of ideas we might believe or wish it to be, but a company no less profit-driven than the traditional publishing industry, and potentially less friendly to the interests of writers beyond those writers’ ability to produce product, for which Amazon will decide the terms and the costs.

    Respectfully yours,
    Bob Proehl

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I’m reasonably agnostic towards most companies – especially large corporations. While I appreciate the opportunity that Amazon has given me to enter the marketplace and reach readers, I’m under no illusions that they are doing so out of the goodness of their heart or any particular benevolent disposition towards me, self-publishers, or writers in general. Their primary aim – like any corporation – is to generate profits and increase value for their shareholders.

      My interests happen to be more or less aligned with theirs in certain (crucial) aspects of my business, but I’m fully aware that could change overnight, and I have my eyes wide open.

      I don’t, however, approach them with more fear or trepidation than I do Apple, Google, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony, or any other large corporation. If Barnes & Noble or Apple suddenly provide me with a level playing field to take on books from the largest publishers, then I will begin speaking of them in similarly complimentary tones.

      With regard to your thought experiment of a world where authors and readers can only reach each other through one company, I must say that I can’t conceive of a set of circumstances where this could possibly arise. I don’t think there is one example in history of a retail monopoly that hasn’t been created by government legislation.

      Aside from that, your characterization of Amazon as a retailer which “displays books to its customers based on prior sales numbers” is incorrect. Amazon’s recommendation system is far more nuanced than that. In short, it will display books to readers that they are most likely to purchase, whether they are written by you or me, or published by themselves or Hachette. In fact, the system you describe would more accurately fit the recommendation systems of their competitors.

      You may well differ, but there is strong evidence for my position that Amazon afford a more level playing field for books from small publishers and self-publishers. The overwhelming majority of self-publishers sell a proportion of books on Amazon far in excess of Amazon’s market share. Most self-publishers I know sell 85% to 90% (or more) of their books on Amazon – despite their best efforts to diversify their sales.

      With regard to your counter-example of Europe, I believe that’s apples and oranges. The digital market is several years behind. Self-publishing hasn’t fully taken off (yet). As such, European authors are understandably more reticent about publishing their own work. As the digital market grows, I fully expect that to change.


      1. If the law suit is ever appealed you can add my name as a voracious reader and indie author. The price of $ 14.99 for an ebook is outrageous especially when I know how much the fixed cost to publish. When I worked for a college textbook publishing company the book cost $3.00 to print and the math textbook sold for $75 to $100. yes a print book has higher fixed costs. I believe in rapid turnover so I direct sell them buying 100 at a time. “ A fast nickel is better than a slow dime” as a fellow entrepreneur told me once. I also am appalled at the big 5 practice of pulping perfectly good books. They’d be better off selling more for less and rapid turnover. I love your column for it’s humor and wisdom. I’ve bought all yours and have enjoyed your honest advice. Keep up.

    2. ‘To draw this example into starker relief, witness Australia, whose government removed these anti-discounting laws a decade ago. The country witnessed a precipitous decline in the number of titles released, as well as the number of bookstores. This was accompanied by a rise in average prices. These deleterious effects on Australia’s book industry continue to trend.’

      And you blame Amazon for this decade-old decline? Bookstore numbers were declining well before Amazon’s rise to prominence as were the number of publishers. In both cases small companies were taken over by larger ones. I suggest this is the main reason for the effects you mention. The only reason we have a Big 6 now is that these corporations have grown too large to comfortably swallow each other. They made the best of it in a cozy arrangement (together with the book chains) where no-one rocked the boat and everyone got to wet their beak… well, I say ‘everyone’…

  24. If you have any doubt whose side (most) agents and the AAR are on (clue: it’s not writers’)

    David, I don’t get it. You just wrote that mow most *agents* (and the AAR) are on the side of big publishers too? Are there readers here who actually believe that? I can name three agents in my own city alone who work their *asses* off for writers, every day, and barely make a living. All three are AAR members, and support the letter (I asked them directly).

    You’ve lost me here as a reader. I don’t have any new argument to pose about the subject–I’ve done enough of that before–but in the words of Chuck Wendig, maybe it’s time to be a fountain, not a drain.

    1. I don’t remember the AAR writing an open letter to the large publishers demanding they increase the 17.5% e-book royalty rate, or that publishers correct their flawed royalty statements, or start paying authors on time, or… the list could go on and on.

    2. It’s no surprise that agents should support publishers in their time of need, they are as anxious to preserve the status quo as anyone else with a vested interest in traditional publishing. And I’m sure manyof them do work hard for their authors (because, let’s face it, if they didn’t they wouldn’t have any clients, would they), but how many of them have ever stuck their neck out for authors? I would guess very few, because the ones that did try to push the envelope got the cold-shoulder (mmmm…metaphors) pretty quickly. The agents that have survived are all playing in the sandbox the publishers built for them.

      1. Perhaps I should expand on why I call the use of the term monopoly pedantic. Economics uses idealised terms such as monopoly, free competition and free markets as a starting point for the discussion. Monopolies, free competition and free markets are as rare as hen’s teeth. In the case of monopolies, in real life, you have to be wary of similar structures such as oligopolies (the Big 6) or virtual monopolies where one big player makes the rules.

  25. My understanding is that publishers are upset with Amazon because they are selling books at a loss. Imagine offering a book via Amazon. You expect it to sell for a certain price to make a decent profit. Amazon does not care about profit, it cares about market share. So it drives the price down, regardless of whether or not the publisher (and the author) can make any money. If you had invested in the time to edit, market, design, and print that book–not to mention the years to write it–you need to guaranteed a basic level of price per book. That’s not greed. That’s common sense.

    1. Kate, that isn’t the issue. Publishers set a wholesale price for a item and they get paid that amount. Amazon chose to take a loss on the books they were selling to gain market share. The publishers were getting their normal cut – it just wasn’t big enough for them and they were scared that Amazon was “devaluing” their product by selling at a loss. If anything, it is the agency model that has really done more damage to publishers than anything else by ensuring that they are making LESS money than they were before!

    2. Amazon was swallowing any such loss under the wholesale model. Publishers still got the price they set (minus the retailer’s standard commission). Amazon’s actions didn’t affect what money publishers (or authors) made – if anything, the discounted price would increase unit sales (for which the publisher was still being paid the same amount per). The reason publishers were peeved was because they desperately wanted to shore up print sales.

      1. –The reason publishers were peeved was because they desperately wanted to shore up print sales.–

        Actually, from what I’ve witnessed actually working for two of the Big Six publishing houses, I don’t think this has ever been the primary concern. You’re totally correct about publishers not losing money with Amazon in the past–it’s more that they’re concerned about what might happen in the future, especially if B&N and BAM and the other smaller chains go by way of Borders. It’s a scary concept to know that Amazon is conditioning customers to expect to pay $9.99 and below for a book, but what’s even more frightening is the possibility that Amazon, if it becomes the biggest/sole retailer, will be able to turn around and demand that publishers set a new wholesale price–one that reflects the low price-point. If the publishers won’t meet their demands, Amazon would most likely pull their ebooks from the Kindle store and their online site.

        I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand what’s wrong with publishers wanting to have the power in setting the price for the content that many upon many people work to produce.

      2. When I look at large publishers’ approach to e-books over the last couple of years it seems clear to me that they were desperate to protect print sales and slow the changeover to digital (and to keep readers frequenting bricks and mortar bookstores for as long as possible). In a print world, large publishers control distribution. They control (most of) the slots in chain stores, airport stores, box stores, and supermarkets, as well as the co-op therein. In a digital world, they lose that control. There is less co-op, there is a level playing field for titles not from the large publishers, and, as a result, much more competition.

        At the end of last year, there were two quotes which backed up the above hypothesis. When Evan Schnittman spoke at The Bookseller’s Futurebook conference in London, he said: “For every print book we lose to an e-book, we lose money.”

        A few days before that, in an article in the New York Times (talking about the recent trend for high-end hardback releases) Nan Graham said: “We hoped that a handsome object would slow the migration to e-book for [Stephen] King.”

        Nobody is asking for publishers to hand over control of what *they* price their books at. They are objecting to publishers controlling what retailers then go on to sell those books for.

      3. (Sorry, David–it won’t let me reply to your second comment, so I’ll try posting it this way)

        –it seems clear to me that they were desperate to protect print sales and slow the changeover to digital (and to keep readers frequenting bricks and mortar bookstores for as long as possible)–

        This may very well be true, but, I’m sorry to say, I *seriously* doubt the primary motivation for this was fear of competition from self-publishing/self-published authors (if you’re discussing Amazon’s actual physical book publishing program–yes, that’s scary to most publishers). Many of the houses initially were dragging their feet because of the uncertainty of situation–no one knew what devices would emerge, what the devices could do (play music that we embed in the ebook? Play video?), or if the public would adapt and really use the technology. There were endless debates over what they could do about pricing that wouldn’t later come back to bite the companies square in the bottom.

        I’m not debating that publishers make more money on hardcovers, or that we’d like to keep publishing the same formats of books we always have. Adjusting to a world in which ebooks dominate the market is a matter of experimenting with lower physical print-runs, accelerated publication schedules, and setting different royalties. Again, what I’m trying to say is that publishers have been motivated in large part by the need to be preemptive/protective in not allowing a company–whose primary concern isn’t even books to begin with–to potentially have power in what they COULD demand w/r/t pricing should they find themselves in the position to do so (see: what happened to Macmillan after it told Amazon they didn’t want to play ball with $9.99). To explain it a different way, publishers–from the very beginning–have used the music industry as a model for what could potentially go wrong when digitizing content. The analogy isn’t perfect as Apple pre-negotiated pricing with record labels–and, don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of irony in Apple’s involvement–but they company set the industry standard of $0.99/song with iTunes with the same basic idea as Amazon with Kindle–to price content low so as to drive consumers to Apple products and software. And because Apple then had the most popular portable music player, they were able to dictate terms to the record labels, holding out on that $0.99 price point until they renegotiated to a variable pricing model.

      4. @Publishing Professional

        I also doubt the primary motivation for this (alleged) conspiracy was fear of self-publishers. It was about control. Control of pricing, and control of the market. Large publishers essentially have a lock on print distribution. In a digital world, they lose all that. I also think they were scared of digital. They didn’t understand it, they had a mistaken fear regarding piracy, and, quite frankly, their businesses were largely set up to market to bookstores, not readers. The barriers to entry in print publishing are much higher (in terms of cost, difficulty, expertise, viability etc.) than digital. As such, in a digital world, there is *much* more competition, whether that comes from self-publishers like me, e-publishers like Samhain or Ellora’s Cave, organisations like the New York Times or Vanity Fair who would have traditionally partnered with publishers and who can now go direct to market themselves, or things like Pottermore. While there is some evidence that the pie is getting bigger, the large publishers must be concerned at the volume some of these non-traditional players are pulling in.

      5. David — First, you are stating your opinion above as fact. As a New York-based bookseller, author, and editor, I can state for a fact — not an opinion — that everyone I know in publishing was very upset at Amazon’s use of printed books as loss leaders (e.g. a product sold below cost to get customers to shop with them and hopefully buy other — profitable — products) long before e-books came along. I’m not saying they don’t care about preserving printed book sales, but that is not their sole reason for objecting to Amazon’s policies.

        Second, you seem to feel that e-books should be less expensive than printed books, as though the cost of printing and binding were the major cost of producing a book. It’s not. The major costs are editing, design, promotion, marketing, and sales. As a small press owner you may do it all yourself and so not have to think about labor costs, but any publishing house with a paid staff has to consider these things. And most of the people I know in publishing who work in these areas are highly skilled professionals who probably make less than they could in other industries, but choose to work in publishing because they love books. I for one, don’t feel their contributions should be discounted or devalued. Furthermore, converting a printed book to an e-book, is not as simple as simply uploading files — unless the publisher doesn’t care what the book looks like on the various e-book platforms. If the publisher does care, they have to have a designer work on each e-book version. When all is said and done, the savings in cost between e-book and printed book is fairly small, unless you’re talking about an e-book issued after the printed book has already recovered all the above costs by going to market first.

        Third, you are presuming that a printed book and an e-book are similar items. But they are not. A printed book is a physical item being sold by a publisher to a retailer with the ownership of the item being transferred to the retailer and the understanding that it will in turn be sold by the retailer and ownership transferred to the consumer. An e-book, on the other hand, is simply a license to view someone else’s intellectual property. No physical property changes hand and neither the reseller nor the consumer ever take actual ownership of the e-book — because they are not purchasing the intellectual property itself, but merely purchasing a license to view the file on their device.

        Amazon themselves made this patently clear when they removed every copy of George Orwell’s 1984 from every Kindle overnight, without prior warning to or permission from the consumers who had “purchased” the e-book. If Barnes & Noble had sold illegally printed copies of 1984. they could be held liable by the Orwell estate, but they could not force consumers to return them. The difference? A license may be revoked. A legal sale of physical property can only be negated by court order — and then, only in very specific circumstances. And, as everyone involved in the licensing of intellectual property knows, the licensor has the right to set prices at which the licensee may resell the intellectual property being licensed. Hollywood does this all the time when licensing film rights. Are you suggesting that you think it’s a good idea that the DOJ disrupt and possibly negate the entire system of intellectual property rights licensing? I’m sure there are lawyers salivating at the thought of all the lawsuits they’ll be able to bring if it does.

        Fourth, even when publishers were selling e-books at a set “wholesale” price, they weren’t actually selling them to Amazon, but merely allowing Amazon to act as their sales agent. Amazon never paid for e-book until if and when a sale went through. This is not wholesale purchasing, but rather consignment — where a retailer agrees to sell a product that is someone else’s property in exchange for a portion of the price realized. Or you could liken it to a real estate transaction, where there is an agent who sells the property, but never assumes ownership and only receives remuneration upon the successful completion of a sale. And in both these situations, it is the property owner — not the seller — who determines the price. Publishers foolishly failed to realize this because they had no familiarity with these forms of selling. But if the DOJ comes along and says Amazon can sell a publisher’s property for whatever price it wants without ever taking ownership of that property, then the DOJ is changing the entire nature of property rights in the US. Again, I’m sure there are many clever lawyers already waiting to take advantage if this ruling is upheld.

        Regardless of what you think of the current publishing system — and I agree their is lots — no,make that TONS — wrong with it, allowing Amazon to set prices on e-books is contrary to all current US laws and customs as regards physical and intellectual property. And no one is accusing publishers of colluding to set actual prices, they’re claiming they colluded to have the right to control what their books are sold for — a right they obviously have under current property law.

      6. Hi Peter, I just saw your comment (I’m in a different time zone). I have to pop out for the day, but I’ll respond on my return – just so you know I’m not ignoring you.

      7. Hi Peter, Apologies for the delay in responding to your comment (and thank you for commenting).

        Loss leaders are common in retail. They weren’t invented by Amazon, and publishers can’t have been too surprised when Amazon adopted the policy. While we are on the topic, where was the outcry when Google Play launched with a 25c special on Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”?

        As for your second point, yes, I believe that e-books should be cheaper than printed books – substantially so, in fact. While you are correct that much of the initial costs are identical for paper and digital – editing, design, marketing – they are also upfront costs. Digital has no (real) continuing costs, whereas all that paper has to be printed, stored, shipped, returned, pulped, re-printed, and so on. Once you cover the cost of producing an e-book, the cost of selling an infinite number of copies is near zero. As for converting a printed book (or an electronic manuscript) to a well-formatted e-book, I can tell you that it’s a relatively trivial process. I do all my own formatting so I’m speaking from experience here, and I stand behind the quality of my books. I can format a complex book from a manuscript in an hour or two. If I was converting from print, you might have to add a little time to clean up the OCR, but that’s it. It’s not rocket science. “E-book prices should be high because (some) publishers have high costs” is not a compelling argument to me. There are plenty of small publishers out there who can sell e-books cheaply and make a nice profit. Readers shouldn’t have to pay for the inefficiencies of large publishers.

        I don’t know enough about licensing law to comment on your third point.

        As for your fourth, when does a re-seller pay in advance for a set amount of a digital product? Do Apple buy 400,000 copies of Lady Gaga’s new album and then attempt to flog them to customers? No.

        Re your conclusion, I could say that regardless of what you think of Amazon, forcing artificially high prices on readers to pay for the inefficiencies of large publishers (allegedly) via an illegal conspiracy is not the answer.

      8. Hi David,
        Cost-plus went out with the Ark. An eBook is worth as much as the buyer chooses to pay. You are right about the Big 6 trying to double dip by claiming print costs are factored into eBoook prices.
        But lower eBook prices do not favour the indie. Somehow, I think we have had this discussion before.

      9. Dear Mr. Glassman: I clicked through on your name and I see the website for your wonderful store… both online and physical. Congratulations on keeping such a treasure open and available to reader/buyers. I hope it will thrive for decades to come.

        I won’t respond to all of your points (as it happens, I am an intellectual property attorney as well as an author and the owner of a small independent press) but I had to respond to one. You state, in comparing the cost of producing ebooks to physical books, that:

        “The major costs are editing, design, promotion, marketing, and sales. As a small press owner you may do it all yourself and so not have to think about labor costs, but any publishing house with a paid staff has to consider these things.”

        Well, I am a small press owner, and I do quite a bit of these things myself, but I also pay someone to design and execute covers, to edit, and to do occasional formatting. It’s not that publishers such as myself don’t “have to think about labor costs” — we simply do it more cheaply. My time is worth money, too (and it’s finite), so sometimes it’s better to hire someone else. But of course it’s not the responsibility of the buying public to think about how much the poor publisher has to pay her staff… the buyer simply thinks the product is worth the price, or not. If my “staff” does not include someone to make my coffee and fetch my lunch (that would be something I do myself) then I save that cost of doing business and pass it on to the buyer. Capitalism, competition — all those things that our system is founded on — mean that someone who comes up with a cheaper way to do something can sell it at a lower price… and profit accordingly.

        The world is changing. Make that — the world has changed. It is no more possible to turn back the clock on the INEVITABLE predominance of e-reading than it was to undo the changes wrought by the invention of the press. Physical books as precious objects will survive. Most people will read most books in digital form. I love them both. The books, that is. Well, some of the people, too.

        You know, all of us self-published authors grew up reading good old-fashioned books, which inspired us so much that we wanted to write our own. Writing and reading are a gift to us all. We’re not on opposite sides of valuing books. We’re simply pointing out that digital books that make reading cheaper and more accessible (did you know that young people are reading more, not less, because of iPhone, iPad, and Kindle reading?) are good for all of us in the long run. The new kind of reading is here. Some gain, some lose, and the written word goes on.

      10. Hi David
        I think the reason publishers were peeved was they saw Amazon’s end game as being able to say we are lowering the prices and you will have to wear some of the haircut. It is basic WalMart – we control distribution – stuff. I could be wrong but that’s my take on it.

    3. To Peter Glassman. . . none of your points are all that relevant to a finding of whether the 5 publishers illegally colluded with Apple to bring down prices. “All of us at once came to the realization that we should logically follow the motion picture model, and decided independently to leverage the one retailer Amazon was afraid of entering the market to make it happen” would not work as a defense.

      They could, however, be relevant to determining the remedy. I suspect the battle over whether they colluded to bring down prices is lost and they’d be better off focusing on alternative remedies to eliminating agency pricing.

      My take on it is this. Amazon engaged in fairly standard and legal attempts to undersell competitors by taking losses. As a response, Apple and the 5 publishers flagrantly colluded and the result was a rise in prices on bestsellers. I believe this behavior needs to be punished, and to be consistent with precedent, the remedy needs to ensure that for the near future, prices are likely to return to where they were. The damage and continuing damage of the action must be given more weight than the not unwarranted fear of future damage by Amazon gaining enough power to begin to act in a legally prohibited anti-competitive manner (as opposed to what they’ve done to date). I can’t think of a remedy that meets these requirements other than eliminating agency pricing for a certain period of time, but I imagine one exists.

      1. @studentofpublihsing – I was guilty of not being exact with my statement and I apologize. You are indeed correct that it would work as a defense if the DOJ believed it. I should have said that such a defense – in my opinion – defies credulity in this case. Your opinion may differ, and ultimately, it’s the opinion of the DOJ that matters. I have been very careful in my statements to not say that I know for certain that a legal finding of collusion is warranted. The fact that it occurred seems patently obvious to myself and many others, (not everyone of course) but that is different than being provable.

      2. “. . . [N]one of your points are all that relevant to a finding of whether the 5 publishers illegally colluded with Apple to bring down prices. ‘All of us at once came to the realization that we should logically follow the motion picture model, and decided independently to leverage the one retailer Amazon was afraid of entering the market to make it happen’ would not work as a defense.”

        Mr. Talbot, you are entirely wrong in this statement. The essence of collusion in an antitrust case is that independent entities make an agreement with each other to do something that limits competition. If each of those entities did realize and decide independently, because, for example, they all faced exactly the same market situation and a potential new distributor showed up with a new solution, those circumstances would in fact be a complete defense. Read the DOJ complaint carefully – it is cleverly drafted to make one think that publishers reached agreements with each other, but in fact the allegations of actual facts do not show that they even communicated with each other in ways that led to agreement.

  26. I 100% agree. Thank you for the opportunity to add my name. Heather E. Ripkey, publishing sales assistant and avid reader.

  27. Please add mine! I agree with everything you wrote. What scares me more than ANYTHING is the governments involvement with the press. They’ve already over reached on too many areas to mention. I do not want to have to go to the government for permission to publish my books. The thought terrifies me. Please, add my name.

    1. Although I hesitate to say this, I figure someone should. if you don’t want the government involved, you probably DON’T want to sign the letter. The letter is in support of the government taking action against the alleged illegal collusion to raise prices on the part of Apple and five major publishers.

  28. Add Tyler Wills – Thanks David for all your efforts, especially when you must be doing the juggler act with everything else right now.

  29. You can add my name to the list. Matthew Turner: Author, and the letter is a very sincere one, and thank you for writing it on behalf of us all

    Like you say, it’s fear that is driving all of this, not for the good of the author like so many claim it to be.

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  30. Please add my name if I’m not too late to the party: Katherine Bayless, author and publisher. Thank you!

  31. I’m in. Add me as Greg James, Self-published Author. Cheers and keep up the good work, mate.

  32. Camille LaGuire: “And to those who think Amazon is a monopoly— you need to stop getting your history and economic lessons from the internet.”

    I agree. It annoys me when I hear people talking about a virtual monopoly or a quasi monopoly. It’s like saying someone is a ‘bit dead’. You’ve either got a monopoly, or you haven’t. Amazon dominates eBook sales because they do it right and have taken care to cultivate good relations with authors, the only people the publishing industry ‘really’ needs (aside from readers).

      1. Depends. If you’re an eccentric billionaire then we are DEFINITELY related. If it helps narrow it down, all my Arnott ancestors were from Buckingham pre1830s and London after that.

    1. Eccentric? Yeah, sure. Billionaire? That, unfortunately, doesn’t fit. If you’re on FB look me up! I’ve got a partial genealogy around here, Who knows? I may have just found a cousin 23 times removed or something! Just check on a few names? Law, Bowler, Mary Arnott (nee 1898-1986?) John Buckett (Lots of them, who knows…Leslie Buckett) — If any of those names show up, let me know. 🙂

      1. Ah, well. It would be TOUGH to miss Victoria Law (Bowler). Although she’s been gone since 1972, she was the longest lived member of my family (Sept. 1863, to November 1972). NOPE, that’s NOT an error. Oh, well. Look me up, anyway. I’ll do some more research. 🙂

    2. I disagree and think such a pure definition of monopoly is pedantic and unhelpful for analysis of real life situations.. Absolute monopolies – one player in the industry – are rare and paradoxically often exist for unprofitable businesses run by the state, public transport as an example.. 65% market share gives Amazon the ability to emulate some of the tactics of the pure monopolist. A main one is setting prices which Amazon has done by paying premium for $2.99 to $9.99 priced books. (Amazon is not colluding to do this so there is nothing illegal about it.) I will be happier when Amazon’s market share falls to something like 25-30%. I like the simplicity and transparency of the agency model. I do not see such a model as being at the heart of any case of collusion and I really do not see why it has to go. Can anyone persuade me otherwise?

      1. Can I “persuade you” that the pricing model is at the heart of the collusion? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Five publishers and Apple agreed to use a pricing model that removes the ability of retailers to set prices for a substantial majority (in dollar terms at the very least) of books on the market. This fact is not something either side is contesting. Whether doing that constitutes illegal collusion is what is at issue. The publishers and Apple are contesting the fact that it was illegal by claiming that it didn’t raise prices, didn’t harm consumers, and was done to counter anti-competitive practices by Amazon. Personally I think they are dead wrong about the first two, thus I conclude that it was illegal. I believe Konrath’s breakdowns that show that the prices of bestsellers went up, and I believe that is sufficient for the case. You may disagree. Regarding the “anti-competitive” practices Amazon engaged in, they were IMO completely legal and in fact pretty standard behavior. The fact that I might prefer Amazon to have somewhat less clout is not that relevant.

        Now when it comes to the remedy, I’ll be the first to agree that’s a gray area. I don’t like the idea of essentially banning agency pricing any more than I like the idea of requiring it. But I do believe illegal anti-competitive behavior occurred and needs to be punished, and it is the very nature of agency pricing that it cannot co-exist with any other model (for the same products, obviously a retailer could have agency agreements with some publishers and wholesale agreements with others) and it reduces price competition. So I reluctantly conclude that the justice dept remedy is necessary.

      2. I did not suggest Amazon did anything illegal by trying to set prices between $2.99 and $9.99. I am not sure the price of best sellers going up proves anti-competitive behaviour. In a free market, the prices of best sellers SHOULD go up, due to demand. The Amazon high-volume low-margin business strategy is the reason they wish to lower prices. Indies on the other hand need to work on low volume, high prices. This is why indies are wrong on pricing low. The agency model allows indies to set retail price. In any industry, in any market, the reason producers get screwed is that they cannot set retail price. They are constantly manipulated by retailers. I concede you make valid points. I just believe it is important for indies to protect the agency model.

      3. I don’t agree that the price of bestsellers should go up – that’s predicated on a limited supply, when the supply of any given e-book (as a digital product) is essentially infinite. As for pricing, if your aim is to maximize income, you should be looking for that sweet spot between sales numbers and price – whether that’s low or high (and that may vary from genre to genre, author to author, and book to book).

        Don’t forget – this isn’t about the agency model per se. There is nothing inherently illegal in the agency model. What is alleged to be illegal here is the way it was implemented, not the model itself.

      4. If you find the accurate use of the word ‘monopoly’ pedantic I suggest you invent a new word that suits you better. A ‘monopoly’ is a monopoly, in the same way that ‘dead’ means dead. It’s an all or nothing proposition. A monopoly means you own a market one hundred percent and also implies you can prevent anyone else from attempting to exploit the same. To take an emotive word such as ‘monopoly’ and apply it inappropriately to try and add weight to an argument is dishonest and manipulative.

  33. Thanks guys. That’s about 100 writers countersigning this letter – which is amazing. I’m leaving the petition idea open for discussion. Here’s another suggestion: there’s no reason why we can’t do both. This letter AND a petition. Maybe something snappier would work for a petition to have any chance of going viral. I’m not exactly known for my haikus 🙂

  34. Please add my name as well!

    (And to those who think Amazon is a monopoly — you need to stop getting your history and economic lessons from the internet. Amazon is large, and no one else does what they do… but they can’t stop others from doing what they do. If they stop serving the customers, they have a million competitors who are active and able to step in. The problem is that the publishing industry is a cartel, and they can no longer compete ONLY because they refuse to stop behaving like a monopoly themselves.)

  35. This is very good. I’m glad to see so many people adding their names.

    I always dreamed of being a published writer, but the more I’ve learned about the ‘Trade’ side of the industry, the better it looked to go independent. I hope this helps the writers still trapped in crappy contracts with companies that have ripped them off for decades.

    Kathleen A. Jordan, Author, Publisher, reader

  36. Joe Konrath, author.

    Might not hurt to start an online petition, save yourself form having to do all the cutting and pasting names. Then we could all have it in the sidebar, and we could Tweet to go viral.

      1. What’s the benefit of going viral I guess would be the question? Would it undermine the value of the signatures? Or would it reach more people and would that be a good thing? Or a bad thing?

        What you/we’re doing here shouldn’t be trivialized or diluted. However, going viral means it will surely be seen. I guess it depends on your goals.

      1. The petition can pretty much BE the letter. Petitions aren’t always quick sentences. In addition, you can just use petition software to basically countersign.

  37. Well said David. I agree completely!

    You can add my name: Mike Cooley, Master of the Universe — um, I mean author.

  38. David – excellent post and letter! Very well said. You can add my name to the letter (Karen Cantwell, author and publisher) and I will consider writing my own as well.

    I do wonder though: how seriously will the DOJ take the “Open letters” from the AAR and other self-interested parties? Will a judge’s opinion be so easily swayed? I mean, there are those little things called “facts” that a judge needs to consider, right? I’m finding these attempts “to explain ourselves” by publishing industry representatives laughable , not to mention pathetic. I’m reminded of the spoiled kid in the candy store who screams and throws a tantrum when told he can’t have that big lollipop on the counter. Poor, poor babies.

    1. That’s a fair point, Karen. I have no idea how seriously this or other letters will be taken. My personal motivation for writing this was to show that there are a whole class of authors out there who aren’t represented in the concerted attempt by the AG, the AAR, and the defending publishers to sway the judge. If none of the letters mean anything, that’s fine, and the case will be decided on the evidence presented by both sides. If the letters mean something, then at least the other side has been voiced.

      1. I agree with you 100%, which is why I am happy to have my name added to the letter and will probably write my own, but I do hope the case is judged by the facts, and not by a few whiny letters sent from NY elitists!

  39. Please add my name to your list: Rachel Bicha.
    I am a reader and a yet unpublished (Indie) author, and I hate high prices of books of any kind as it means I can’t afford to “feed my habit.” I’m really glad the DOJ is looking into this, and I’m really glad you’re speaking up for readers. Even those agents and others claiming to speak for authors that you cited have never claimed to speak on behalf of readers, that I know of, and neither do they speak for readers or even have readers’ interests at heart who are their customers.

  40. Hi David! By all means add my pen name – Edward G. Talbot.

    Side note – I too have mixed feelings about agency pricing. On the one hand, I don’t see how it can’t reduce competition in the long run, because it eliminates retailer competition based on price. And it creates an additional technical/procedural barrier to entry for a retailer or wholesaler, which is the need to reflect price changes extremely quickly – one could argue this is merely a competitive advantage for those who can do it as opposed to a barrier to entry, but it strikes me as so critical to an agency pricing environment that it is the latter.

    On the other hand, I like what agency pricing has done to the market thus far and I strongly suspect that the justice department settlement will hurt my sales. By removing retailer price competition, it has ruthlessly highlighted Amazon’s superior customer focus compared to every one of its competitors in the ebook space.

    Ultimately, we can’t have companies blatantly colluding to fix prices, which it is obvious that Apple and the Big 6 minus random house did. To the extent that this collusion violates antitrust law, action by the DOJ is necessary. So thanks for writing this letter!

    1. I share some of those feelings. There is no doubt that the removal of Agency would result in greater price competition. What form that will exactly take is open for debate. I’m of the opinion that there will still be plenty of room for us to price competitively and make good profits. On top of that, I also believe that higher priced books from the largest publishers (encompassing some of the most popular authors) slowed (and still slows) the pace of the digital changeover. Without Agency over the last couple of years (and going forward), I think that pace would increase. In addition, and perhaps this is a more fundamental point, I believe that Agency acted as a disincentive for Amazon’s competitors to innovate (especially in terms of their stores, which are generally awful).

      1. I agree with both of your points about slowing digital changeover and disincentive for innovation. But I would be surprised if the acceleration of both those things will have a net negative impact on my sales.

    2. This is exactly my concern. I don’t typically market my work, but when I do, it is related to price manipulation. If I feel like I want more visibility, I lower the price for a little while and I get a bump. When I raise the price, my profit margins go up. Without the ability to do this, I’d have one less tool in the box.

      This is not to say I don’t want my name on the letter. I do, because it’s right. But I do hope that I am still able to price according to my personal needs.

      1. I see both sides of this, but my gut feeling is that this will result in more chaos. Indies do well with chaos. We learn faster. We adapt quicker. We crowdsource the problem, run a bunch of simultaneous experiments, and share the results – then implement with lightning speed. I think we’ll be fine under the wholesale model (with some speedbumps along the way).

  41. Add me mate, for sure! Got to get some form of structured opinion in place, if only so that we can say we tried. (Or more accurately, that you tried… :0)
    Good work!
    Tony (James Slater)

  42. Kudos, David!
    Sharing this link on FB and Twitter to assist in passing the word to our colleagues.
    Please include my name as a supporter of your correspondence entitled: An Open Letter to DOJ . . .
    Laura Taylor, Legacy Published & Indie Published Author, Consulting Editor, & Reader

  43. what ya bet we all get investigated by the DOJ? ::snicker::

    Actually, I give it pretty good odds. If ya don’t live in the USA, odds are smaller unless you live in Britain. Of course, these guys also plan on the world ending on 12-21-2012. 🙂

  44. Hi David,

    Thank you for doing this and stating points shared by many so eloquently.

    Please add me to the list: Kane Gilmour, author, publisher, and reader.



  45. Reblogged this on The Joseph Ratliff Letter and commented:
    The publishers spoken of are simply whining because their precious business model has been interrupted… and they are too lazy to innovate IMO…

    1. I see your point and I’ve had lengthy discussions with fellow writers on the same topic. I’m not so sure though. It could be argued that this artificial price inflation has also kept the digital reader pool smaller than it would have been with full price competition. It’s really hard to know – I can see an argument being made both ways.

      1. Why are we saying that the agency model is artificial inflation? The notion that Amazon, a company which by traditional standards, already is a monopoly can run the whole publishing show by pricing books so low most authors can’t survive, is good for readers sounds like part of the occupy movement. Sure, name authors who already made their marks via BIG PUBLSHING, can afford to change horses in mid stream and sell their books for little or no return per copy. The rest of us don’t have that reader base. So, saying the DOJ suit helps readers by lowering prices is ignoringt the fact that the content of the book (not the file) is what we’re selling. A midlist or new author can’t make enough to live on by selling books at 99 cents. Siding with the DOJ is siding with the real monopoly already in place. We forget out history. Once Standard Oil drove all their competition out of business with low prices, they raised prices because they owned the market.


      2. @knightofswords: Actually, Standard Oil never raised prices. The price of oil fell from $8 a barrel in the 1860s to less than one dollar in 1911, when Standard Oil was broken up. By that date, Standard Oil had less than 65 percent of the U.S. market for crude oil and refined oil products, and its share was decreasing rapidly because of competition from companies like Texaco and Gulf.

        As for Amazon, its market share of ebooks has also fallen, from about 90 percent a couple of years ago (at a time when it was the only large retailer making any serious attempt to market ebooks) to about 60 percent today. It is not a monopoly by any stretch of the imagination; and since the barriers to entry in this business are relatively low, it has no power to exclude competition.

        So, apart from every detail of your argument being wrong, you’re right on the money.

      3. @Tom Simon: except that you didn’t address the point about discoverability of new authors. Back in the day, it was impossible to be discovered by readers if one of the gatekeepers didn’t pick you, but if you were your books would be on bookshelves across the country at the publisher’s expense. Nowadays, anyone can be published but we expect the authors to do their own publicity. I’m worried the net outcome will be that fewer people will be able to make a living writing, especially if we price their content, time, and effort at cheap or free.

      4. But Malcolm, most traditionally published authors CAN’T survive. Even those who have been dutifully writing a book (or more) a year. They are instead supporting the middlemen. Check out this list of indie authors who have to date sold over 50,000 ebooks, who are surviving nicely:

        And as to, “sounds like part of the occupy movement” — you say that as if it were a bad thing.

  46. I also tweeted a link to this post, and wrote about it on my various Facebook pages and on a private publishing listserv of which I’m part. I encourage everyone who agrees with David’s take to help get out the word about his efforts.

  47. “As for Turow/Hochman, I don’t necessarily agree that they are advancing these views because they have a business relationship (either with each other or one of the defendants). You may differ, of course. Rather, I think they are advancing these views because they are desperate to defend the status quo which has served them so well.”

    Thanks, David, but I say, six of one, half dozen of the other. To rephrase your comment, the status quo has served the Turow-Hochman partnership and their publisher Hachette very well. I think it would be nigh on impossible for anyone to distinguish between whether Turow and Hochman happen to agree because they benefited in tandem or they agree because they benefited in legal partnership.

    Given their career, enjoined for the last twenty-five years, repeat the last quarter of a century!, the president of the AAR and the president of the AG are hardly going to disagree with each other, even if their respective memberships had been consulted and demanded it.

    And is it appropriate that these two presidents are mutually dependent on each other for their some of their personal earnings?

    1. I can understand where you are coming from, but this isn’t about the views of two people. Simon Lipskar (a board member of the AAR) penned an open letter to the DOJ that was as disingenuous and self-serving as anything that has been coming from Gail Hochman or Scott Turow. There have been similar remarks from all the defendants in the case. And while both the AG and the AAR may have acted without polling their members, I don’t think that you could say that Hochman or Turow are alone within those organizations in feeling this way.

  48. David, great post and great letter, and I’d be proud to add my name. I’m also coordinating a letter to the DOJ with Joe Konrath. Thanks very much for your insights, courage, and integrity.

    Barry Eisler

  49. I’m not quite published yet (still working on the first of a series), but I’d love to add my name to the bottom as well, if I can.

    Etta-Tamara M Wilson, Author and reader.

  50. David,

    Please feel free to add my pen-name, Jason Kristopher, to the letter, and, if you wish, the name of my publishing company, Grey Gecko Press. I can’t speak for our other authors (of which there are 10+), but I will pass the word along and hope that they agree, as well.

    Well done!

  51. Why does it matter what any of these agencies or publishing houses decide to do?

    They are irrelevant as you already pointed out.

    Any author (or anyone really) that wants to write a book can and should use the Internet. They can self publish their work and let word of mouth and their own efforts to promote their book. This method is easier and has taken out the middle men aka publishers.

    Any author can set at their own price and make almost everything. Only thing an author needs is a story and an editor to make a book, after that the sheer joy of a finished product, if well written, will sell its self.

    Consider all those publishing houses and the government and all this shit you wrote a waste of time because look how many comments it’s gotten you.

    There is no need for any discussion between any company other than the site that can host your book or allow it to be put on devices like the kindle, iOS devices, etc.

    That’s all there is to it. And if they charge too much, just make it a PDF file and sell your work
    by e-mailing it and charging someone with a square.

    Consider my response the way of the future as I’m twenty-five years old with a college degree and wouldn’t bother having deal with any publishing house unless I was getting paid ridiculous amounts of money.


    1. While I have some sympathy for the view you have expressed, it fails to take account of two groups of people: authors of books which have already been published traditionally and are (likely) locked down on lengthy contracts, and readers of those authors. For the former, much of their output isn’t just trapped into contracts with paltry royalty rates, but they are also being priced out of the opportunity to gain readers by their publishers’ desperate attempts to shore up print sales. For the latter, the price of authors they have grown to love has been artificially inflated (and retailers have been prevented from discounting to a more realistic level).

  52. You can add my name and support. As someone who has been questioning the practices of publishing houses, unfair contract terms, and price fixing for 20 years, I’ve recently blogged about publishers and agents, giving facts and numbers, barely scratching the surface of all the shenanigans that go on in the profession. One house, for example, created a subsidiary company and sold books to itself so it could discount the price and reduce the author’s royalties from 50% to 3%. Where were the agents then? How dare they send a letter to the DoJ purporting to represent our best interests. Bah, you’re getting me all worked up again *s*. Just sign me, Marsha Canham, 30 year, award-winning veteran of print publishing and now self published by choice.

  53. I truly appreciate the response from everyone above. Please feel free to comment even if you don’t want to add your name, or if you disagree. No judgement will be made either way. You may agree with the spirit of the letter, but not some of the details, or may not wish to get involved at all. That’s totally fine for all the reasons I gave above and any you may privately hold.

    Also, please feel free to write your own letter to the DOJ (address above) and put your own slant on it. I think that will be at least as effective as counter-signing this one.

  54. The best interests of the consumers, readers, are served by letting the marketplace price the product, books. Artificially maintaining high prices does not serve the readers. Collusion in maintaining high prices is exactly what the DoJ should be investigating.
    Add my name, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt.

  55. Getting a LOT of response, here! 🙂 If my Aunt (A published author, writer, editor…) were here, I don’t know if she’d sign or not…but I can ask! 🙂

  56. Add my name: Jaye W Manus. And a note:

    Dear DoJ, As an author I’ve walked away from traditional publishing, determined to never again accept their onerous contracts (the terms of which are similar across the publishers, probably from lack of competition) and their unfair royalty rates (also similar across the publishers, again lack of competition).

    As a consumer, the publishers have priced me out of the print book market by raising prices en masse and limiting supply (across the board, almost as if they got together to decide what prices would be).

    As a citizen, I’m less interested in Agency pricing and far more interested in the publishers colluding with one business (Apple) in order to force other retailers (namely Amazon) to fix prices on consumer goods. With their back room deals, gaming the system, and bizarre distribution terms, the publishers named in the lawsuit severely hampered the ability of brick-and-mortar bookstores to conduct business, which in turn drove readers to used book stores, libraries, and piracy, further reducing sales, which in turn reduced supply and increased prices. As an author, that harmed me greatly. As a consumer, it harmed me greatly. With the rise of online retailers, especially Amazon, offering a wide open playing field and increased competition, prices have come down, the supply has increased, all to the benefit of book creators and readers. That the named publishers were caught trying to do the same thing to online retailers as they did to book-and-mortar retailers is appalling.

    The organizations supporting Apple and the named publishers do not speak for me. Not as a writer, not as a reader, not as a consumer, and certainly not as a citizen who follows the rules and thinks others should as well.

    Jaye W Manus, writer, reader, consumer

  57. “One such group are best-sellers like Scott Turow, the President of the Authors Guild – an organization that claims to represent the interests of writers. Another such group are literary agents like Gail Hochman, the President of the Association of Authors’ Representatives – an organization of literary agents, which also claims to represent the interests of writers.”

    Dear DOJ,

    …”And might I add that it is far from clear to the rank and file membership of either the AAR or the AG that agent Hochman and her client Turow who happen to be very successful and longstanding business partners, are doing anything more with their initiatives to your office than advancing their personal views without any demonstration to date of consultation of their membership nor of holding their memberships’ interests as their priority over that of Hachette, Turow’s publisher, along with other large publishers.

    Taking it as given that the coordinated Hochman and Turow advocacy is truly in the name of writers and agents under their presidencies should be subjected to careful examination by the DOJ. No consultation of the Author’s Guild membership at large was conducted before the Turow stance was taken.”

    If you add that, I’ll sign.

    1. I’m not going to start crowdsourcing the letter or it would never get sent. I’m sure there are a range of views that this letter won’t capture. And, of course, there’s nothing to stop you penning your own letter (the address is in the post). Please feel free to use any part of mine you choose.

      As for Turow/Hochman, I don’t necessarily agree that they are advancing these views because they have a business relationship (either with each other or one of the defendants). You may differ, of course. Rather, I think they are advancing these views because they are desperate to defend the status quo which has served them so well.

      Having said that, I do think you have a point with regard to the AG and Scott Turow (and the AAR and Gail Hochman) not balloting members before taking such a stance. I’m not a member of the AG, but I could see myself being quite annoyed if I was.

  58. I wish that you, David, along with Jon and Dean and others fighting the good fight, would highlight something really important here: Gail Hochman wrote to her AAR membership and on behalf of her membership but clearly (seeing as she is calling for AAR support) without the clearance from her membership. This was HER initiative, one presumes therefore. Her main client is Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild. Has he consulted his membership before expressing the AG stance? I’m an AG member and he didn’t ask me.
    THEREFORE, can’t we all see and publicize the possibility that Scott and Gail are acting as a linked DUO here, not at the helm of a two great assemblies of writer and agent supporters, but only working to collect support for their pro-Hachette Cause (his main publisher, owner of Grand Central Imprints and named in the DOJ lawsuit.)

    Does the DOJ know about this relationship of two well-positioned individuals who share a single career interest at heart and look to be spearheading and as far as I can guess, skewering the entire debate?
    I’ll retract this allegation when I get some kind of AG ballot in the mail from Scott asking what I want. And your agent who disagrees with Gail might stick her head above the trench as well.

  59. You can tack my name on at the bottom. There’s no way that price fixing improves competition on ebook sales, especially if the price is set artificially high to boost the sales of a cheaper version, namely the print edition (which costs more money to produce and distribute). And that practice did demonstrably and selectively occur on popular titles, despite the contention that books are “fungible”.

  60. Please add my name to the list. I’m not yet published, but I’m building my own company which I’ll publish through and I agree 100% with your letter. Well done as usual.

  61. Dave: There’s something wrong with the following paragraph. Who are “they” that are creating…?

    This, I submit, is the real reason these publishers (seem to) hate Amazon: because they are, for the first time, creating real competition in publishing by facilitating and encouraging the switch from print to digital, and giving new competitors the tools and platform to really compete with the existing players.

    Add my name.


  62. “This, I submit, is the real reason these publishers (seem to) hate Amazon: because they are, for the first time, creating real competition in publishing by facilitating and encouraging the switch from print to digital, and giving new competitors the tools and platform to really compete with the existing players.”

    Well said. All the blather in the world cannot disguise this basic truth. The traditional players had the playground all to themselves for a long time. Now they don’t, and they don’t like it.

  63. Yes, I would like to have my name added to this. I feel exactly the same way as your letter states. Thank you for doing this, and please include my name, Valle Bower.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *