Monthly Archives: March 2011

April Fool’s Day After Changing Charter to Non-Profit, Random Begins Giving Books Away

After a decade of flat income from printed books and hemorrhagic siphoning of e-book revenues  by pirates, Random House got the green light from parent organization Bertelsmann to alter its corporate charter and become a nonprofit organization. Though the company tried to put a good face on it, the move is a tacit admission that the book business is unprofitable.

To implement the changeover and compete with filesharing pirates, the firm will slash list prices to $0.00. The logic behind the strategy was laid out by a Random spokeswoman: “It’s good will. We believe that customers seeking free books will prefer to patronize a branded company like Random House rather than some no-name buccaneer.”

The company cafeteria will be converted to a soup kitchen for indigent authors, according to one employee who spoke anonymously.

Random’s move was acclaimed by the literary agent community, which itself went non-profit several years ago. “Most of our members now do volunteer work, like reading to children at libraries,” said a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. “It’s so much more satisfying than dealing with authors.”


Death Spiral, Where is Thy Sting?

Only a few years ago, a 50% reduction in the first printing of a bestselling author would mean she had entered the dreaded Death Spiral from which there is no recovery.

For those of you who have not been trapped in the cockpit of a plummeting career, the Death Spiral works like this.  If the printing of your first novel was 100,000 but net sales were only 35,000, your publisher will print only 35,000 of your second book.  And if that one nets only 15,000 your publisher will print only 15,000 of your third book – if your publisher is loyal enough to offer you a contract on a third book.  In all too many cases, as printings and sales spin to earth in a sickening downdraft of failure, publishers will not sign you up for new books.

Blockbuster author Jean Auel – 45 million copies of her Earth’s Children prehistoricals  in print worldwide – has just taken a big hit with the printing of the sixth book in the series, Land of the Painted Caves. Her publisher, Crown, issued 465,000 copies, a big drop over prior printings.  Yet neither she nor her publisher seem overly concerned.  Why?

“There has been a sea change in publishing since Ms. Auel’s last book, ” says New York Times book beat reporter Julie Bosman.  “In the last year, many anticipated novels have sold as many e-books as print books in the first week of publication.” Auel says ““I don’t care if they read it in e-book or in hardcover….If they enjoy it, I don’t have any objection.”

For authors threatened with a nosedive, e-books may be the wind beneath their wings.

Read Promoting Jean Auel’s ‘Land of Painted Caves’ as an E-Book.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Enhanced E-Book Balloon Losing Gas?

Enhanced e-books.  Here today, gone tomorrow?

In a recent interview with Michael Healy, Director of Google’s Book Rights Registry, Simon & Schuster President and CEO Carolyn Reidy offered many cogent observations about the e-book business including the fact that e-books represent as much as 60% of the initial sales of a newly released book.  You can read it all on Teleread. However, many who read the dialogue may have missed this significant comment by Reidy (obviously condensed by the transcriber):

“Enhanced ebook market is not very strong and some of the biggest sellers have still been less than 2,000 copies. Still experimenting doesn’t appear that public is enthused by the concept. Don’t do any apps any more because are very expensive to make and get lost in the App Store, don’t know how to get them recognized in the mass of stuff in the store. Can’t put apps into the bookstore which makes it harder for them to be found.”

“Enhanced” has been the hot byword in publishing for the last year or two and has even been the cause of friction between publishers and film companies. Movie people feel that if a publisher makes a book that looks like a movie and sounds like a movie, it’s a movie and the publisher is infringing on the moviemaker’s territory.  If other publishers come to the same conclusion as Reidy – that it’s just too expensive, time-consuming and unprofitable – the enhanced e-book may die aborning and we will all wonder one day what the fuss was about.  Then you’ll remember that you heard it here first. (See One-Word Explanation of Why Enhanced E-Books Won’t Work.)

Richard Curtis


Greek Seaman Runs Aground on Treacherous Typos

A deliciously entertaining but instructive controversy has arisen over the review of The Greek Seaman, a self-published novel by an English writer named Jacqueline Howett.  A reviewer writing under the handle “BigAl” posted a critique describing the story as “compelling and interesting.” But he also slammed it for being rife with spelling and grammatical errors.  He gave the book two stars and complained “Reading shouldn’t be that hard.”

Whereupon the author lost it. First she blamed the proofing problems on the fact that BigAl had reviewed a flawed copy of the book. “You obviously didn’t read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted, so this is a very unfair review.” Then she marshaled positive Amazon reviews to prove her book deserved more stars than BigAl had awarded it. Then she got out the knives and took after BigAl personally, calling him names, insisting he withdraw his review and demanding that he come out and fight like a man and answer private emails she sent him.

A host of commenters rushed to BigAl’s support, accusing the author of unprofessionalism. Finally BigAl defended himself in a comment of his own, citing such solecisms as:

“She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.”


“Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”

We have not read the book and cannot judge its literary or grammatical merits. We can however draw some inferences from the author’s rabid attacks on her tormenters:

  • “Al was given the option of a free copy from smashwords the following day to download in any format he preffered…”
  • “…you could choose any format you wanted to read it in and if their were any spelling mistakes they were corrected.”
  • “This is not only discusting and unprofessional on your part, but you really don’t fool me AL”
  • “Your the target not me!”
  • “Just look at your ball all of you”
  • “Why read the wrong copy? that don’t make sense.”
  • “Also in the new copy you did not have to click at all to get to the next page on Kindle, so thats how I now he never downloaded the clean copy.”
  • “You are a big rat and a snake with poisenous venom.”

It’s hard not to concur with the anonymous commenter who said “The best part is that even your comments, Jacqueline, are full of misspellings, awkward phrasing, grammatical errors, and typos. So I’m certain those creep into your writing. And if you didn’t have a good editor (or even an editor at all), then it’s not hard to believe what the reviewer is saying.”

Ms. Howett’s response?

“Fuck off!”

You can read it all here.

Richard Curtis

Thanks to SRB.


When is E-Royalty Not a Royalty? When 9th Circuit Court Says It Isn’t

Authors – time to lawyer up?

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that digital music royalties should be treated as a license.  Given the similarities between music and book contracts, the implications for authors are significant. Below is our original article on the subject published in October 2010.

Don’t just stand there. Look at the royalty language in your book contract.



Is there a reason why publishers are not wailing, gnashing their teeth and rending their garments over the Eminem decision?

Maybe they haven’t heard about it. Maybe they don’t understand it. Maybe they don’t think it applies to them. Maybe they just don’t want to think about it at all.

They really must think about it and so must you. The case heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was ostensibly about music but you can bet it won’t be long before it’s about e-books, and it could throw the publishing industry’s royalty structure into chaos.

Ethan Smith of the Wall Street Journal explains the issues (the italics are ours): “Under most recording contracts, artists are entitled to 50% of revenue from licensed uses of their music. That usually means soundtracks for movies, TV shows and ads. Sales, on the other hand generate royalties for the artist at a much lower rate—generally in the low teens, and rarely more than 20%.”

For “recording contracts” read “publishing contracts”. Under current book industry standards publishers pay authors a 25% royalty for e-book sales. Their contracts also call for a 50% share of e-book licenses made with third parties. But publishers do not consider e-book revenue to be license revenue. If they did they’d have to pay authors 50% of what they receive rather than half of that amount.

In the case in question, Eminem’s producers F.B.T. Productions brought a lawsuit against Aftermath Records claiming that what Aftermath defined as sales were really license revenues and Aftermath therefore owed them the difference between the low royalty they were being paid and the much higher share of license money. The three judge panel of the San Francisco Federal court agreed:

Pursuant to its agreements with Apple and other third parties…, Aftermath did not “sell” anything to the download distributors. The download distributors did not obtain title to the digital files. The ownership of those files remained with Aftermath, Aftermath reserved the right to regain possession of the files at any time, and Aftermath obtained recurring benefits in the form of payments based on the volume of downloads . . . Under our case law interpreting and applying the Copyright Act, too, it is well settled that where a copyright owner transfers a copy of copyrighted material, retains title, limits the uses to which the material may be put, and is compensated periodically based on the transferee’s exploitation of the material, the transaction is a license.

For a cogent analysis of the case and its implications for the book industry, read Copyright Alert: 9th Circuit Holds Digital Downloads are Licenses Not Sales by copyright authority Lloyd J. Jassin, to whom we’re indebted for bringing the case to our attention.

It will not surprise us to find a flurry of amendment letters from publishers in the next few months saying “Wherever we refer to ‘royalty’ we mean ‘license’ but we’re still going to pay you 25% of what we receive.”

Richard Curtis


Formula for Cracking Amazon Top 100 Revealed

The following story was submitted to us anonymously, but so far we have been unable to verify it.

A team of researchers has unlocked the secret of successful self-publication and is ready to guarantee that anybody applying the formula can duplicate the 100,000+ Kindle sales reported by Indie superstars.

Studying the techniques of pioneer indie writers like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Selena Blake, the grad school geeks focused on multiple price-changes in concentrated periods of time. “What unlocked it for us was the realization that e-books are an ever-fluctuating commodity like soybeans and sorghum,” said  the mellifluously named Trini Rongbuk, leader of the research team.  “By changing the price hundreds of times within the hour, we are able to rival the bestselling independent authors and get any book, no matter how bad, on Amazon’s top 100 list.”

To prove that the formula works, Rongbuk, who had never even published a letter to the editor, uploaded a 50,000 word stream-of-consciousness screed she titled Garbage and began manipulating the list price between $.99 and $9.99 thousands of times over a 24 hour period. Sales soared and by the end of the test period she smashed the one-day Kindle sales record to smithereens.  At the end of the experiment she collapsed and was taken to the hospital for dehydration and severe carpal tunnel syndrome.

“This proves that anyone can sell hundreds of thousands of e-books as long as you keep the list price constantly in motion,” said one of her partners.

The experiment has attracted the attention of a group of asset managers  interested in packaging the program and developing e-books as a speculative commodity.


The New Breed of Gatekeepers. An Interview with Richard Curtis

Agent and E-Reads publisher Richard Curtis was interviewed by Gatekeepers Post publisher Jeff Rivera. The two industry leaders explored the emergence of a corps of gatekeepers that is very far from the establishment elite that we grew up with.

You can listen to the podcast here.

You can also read Richard Curtis’s posting about Gatekeepers here . ************************************

The Gatekeepers Post is the leading social media book publishing community on the web Richard Curtis is probably one of the most respected people in the book publishing industry. He’s incredibly smart, wise and a true visionary who foresaw the eBook revolution years before the masses. In today’s audio interview with the veteran literary agent and Publisher of E-eads, he discusses with us the true pros and cons authors need to keep in mind when they are deciding between publishing directly or publishing with an e-book publisher such as his company. If you’re about to load your book on Kindle yourself, you might give serious thought to listening to this interview first.


Brits Discover Evil

Filesharing pirates are picking the pockets of British authors and they don’t like it one bit, according to The Guardian.

One victim, crime writer David Hewson, wants to start an educational campaign to remind readers that they are in effect receiving stolen goods. “I spent a year of my life working on those books. They cost me time and money. Hosts of people at my publishers, people who also have the right to be paid for their work, were involved. What gives some thieving toe-rag the right to take all that work we’ve put in, steal it, then regurgitate it for the masses?”

He’s even come up with a motto:  “People Who Love Books Don’t Steal Books”. That will certainly send the toe-rags fleeing in confusion. Of course, we’ve had another motto a lot longer than Hewson’s and it doesn’t seem to have made a dent.  It’s called the Eighth Commandment.

At least the Brits have an anti-piracy law in place – for whatever good it does.  The US congress, meanwhile, dithers.

To see our full archive of piracy articles, visit Pirate Central.



.gov ♥ .xxx

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the federal agency tasked with monitoring Internet addresses, has okayed a new suffix for the registration of pornography websites: .xxx

“A red-light district on the Web” is how the New York Times‘s Miguel Helft described it, and we can’t conjure a better image than that.  Visitors to xxxville will be able to patronize one of at least 200,000 websites dedicated to every sexual predilection known to man, woman, and beast.

Like its fleshpot equivalent, registered .xxx sites will be policed for viruses, emboldening visitors to dally without concern of contracting the digital equivalent of pox.  Needless to say, religious opposition is strong, but one has to wonder why, when unregulated porn on the Net and television is far more threatening to the morals of minors (and grownups) than a supervised system.  The beauty part of triple x is that it is easier to segregate and filter the porn displayed on it.  Attempts to control it by government fiat have failed miserably but regulation by commerce just might achieve what the prude lobby cannot.

“Everybody wins,” said Peter Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry, the outfit that will oversee the domain for $60 dues per site year. “The consumer of adult sites wins. The providers will benefit because more people will become paying customers. And those who don’t want to go there will win as well, because the sites will be easier to filter.”

Oh – and ICM Registry will benefit too: 200,000 x $60  = $12 million annually

Pornography Sites Will Be Allowed to Use .XXX Addresses

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.



Judge Rejects Google Settlement (with an Asterisk)

In what Publishers Weekly aptly describes as “a stunning setback”, the judge poring over the Google Book Settlement for more than a year rejected it as “not fair, adequate, and reasonable.”

The judge, Denny Chin, said that while he recognized the importance of Google’s initiative in digitizing countless books, he also felt that Google had dealt itself an unfair advantage over the competition. ”While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far…Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.”

Of course, when Google undertook to digitize millions of printed books there was scarcely anything by way of competition, and it was only after Google brought forth its achievement that competitors appeared to cry “unfair.” (See Jealous Rivals Determined to Tank Google Settlement?) The Authors Guild among others brought a lawsuit but reached a settlement with Google that it hoped would satisfy all parties. It satisfied all of them except the one that counted – Judge Chin.

On the bright side Chin noted that a rather simple fix could persuade him to reverse his position. Instead of offering authors the negative option of optioning out of the settlement, he suggested the positive approach of letting authors choose to opt in.

“As the United States and other objectors have noted, many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an opt-out settlement to an opt-in settlement. I urge the parties to consider revising the ASA accordingly.”

To read the complete decision click here.