May 17, 2012

More highlights of the DOJ lawsuit evidence show the battle is bigger than you think


The real question: What's it worth to you?

Still more revelations from the amended lawsuit being brought against publishers by 31 states (see the earlier MobyLives report) have been posted, with commentary, by Jane Litte on the Dear Author website, a “romance review blog.”

Among those revelations, as described and commented upon by Litte:

Later in the piece, Litte cites a study by two academics charting incidents of “windowing” — separating print book and ebook release dates — and publisher comments about those incidents. For example, the chart notes that in early 2010, Hachette delayed the digital release of many of its titles “by 3-4 months after the hardcover release date.” It then notes that Hachette CEO David Young explained, “I can’t sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices.”

All of which is fascinating — particularly the fly-on-the-wall revelations of the interplay amongst the publishers. But it’s also terrifying — in its revelation of what the book industry is up against.

Litte, for example, clearly sees windowing, and David Young’s explanation of it, as nefarious, despite Young’s statement that he believes he is both protecting his authors and Hachette’s long-term investment in those authors. The notion that there’s a war to be waged, and an important one, against the conceptual and actual devaluing of books doesn’t even enter into consideration for Litte. Nor does the fact that this was a business decision from the early days of ebook-selling (hell, it’s still the early days of ebook-selling). The main thing is she was not given what she wanted immediately, and at the kind of under-pricing then being enacted by Amazon.

And of course, windowing practices have changed since then — after trying different methods, most publishers now publish print and digital simultaneously. They responded to the marketplace … once they had a chance to figure it out.

But none of that matters. Where some find it stirring that other publishers wanted to support a colleague, John Sargent, in a dangerous stand against a monopolistic bully trying to force them to sell an author’s work for cheaper than it cost to produce it, others, including the government, see it as evil collusion meant to thwart them from getting books at rock-bottom prices. Some see Barnes & Noble’s attempt to shore up a business partner in need — Macmillan — as both noble and smart business, while others see it as rotten collusion that’s proof of some kind of anti-consumer conspiracy. “these [sic] things are so dirty,” as Litte described it. And the stabilized marketplace brought about by all of this is meaningless — this is a case of vengeance rooted in hindsight.

Not just the publishers but the entire industry that supports them, it seems, can’t win for losing. Judging by the revelations of what the Department of Justice considers evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and by the fact that 31 states are colluding with the DOJ, the perceptual battle is in fact far more desperate than the legal battle.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.