Monthly Archives: June 2012

Want to Buy Dorchester? Bid Against Amazon

After a long illness Dorchester Books as finally succumbed, a victim of the digital revolution to which the mass market paperback publisher could not adapt. If authors and agents read the fine print in today’s “Notice of Public Disposition” they will find the following phrase: “Secured Party will foreclose its security interest in and sell at public auction as a single unit through Garfunkel Wild, P.C., to Amazon Publishing, or such other higher and/or better bidder as may prevail at auction…”

And a little further down is the good news that authors and agents who had despaired of recovering royalties from the sinking publisher will be made whole by Amazon: “All publication contacts regarding certain literary works (collectively, the “Works”) and related outbound license agreements of DP (collectively, the “Contracts”), subject to the purchaser negotiating certain amendments with the authors of the Works in exchange for payment by Amazon Publishing of the full amount of back royalties that DP indicates is owed to those authors as of May 31, 2012…”

In practice Amazon, or any firm that outbids Amazon in an auction to be conducted in August, will tender amendments to authors and agents transferring rights to the new entity, in exchange for which back royalties will be paid in full.

The acquiring firm will then convert the books to e-books (a number of them have been converted already) and release them in e-book format. The original covers are among the assets to be acquired; our understanding is that Dorchester owned them outright and no rights clearance will have to be undertaken.

Though we lament the passing of Dorchester, with its excellent list of westerns, horror, romance and other genre fiction, we are happy to think its orphaned books will be in the hands of those who will know what to do with them.

The full press release is below:
Richard Curtis
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NOTICE OF PUBLIC DISPOSITION OF COLLATERAL
PURSUANT TO THE UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE

TO: DORCHESTER PUBLISHING, CO., INC., AS DEBTOR
c/o OEM Capital Corp.
230 Park Avenue, Suite 456
New York, New York 10169

FROM: JOHN D. BACKE, AS SECURED PARTY
27 Hedge Row Road
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, that by virtue of defaults in the terms of: (i) that certain secured Promissory Note, dated June 24, 2009, in the original principal amount of $2,900,000 executed and delivered by, inter alia, Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. (“DP” or “Debtor”), as borrower, to and in favor of John D. Backe, as lender (“Secured Party”), as amended by that certain Amendment to Secured Promissory Note dated December 22, 2010 acknowledging the increase in the principal balance of the Note to $3,400,000 (the “Note”); and (ii) that certain Security Agreement, dated June 24, 2009, by and between, inter alia, Debtor and Secured Lender securing Debtor’s obligations of the Note (the “Security Agreement”, with capitalized terms used herein, unless herein defined, as defined in the Note or Security Agreement). Secured Party will foreclose its security interest in and sell at public auction as a single unit through Garfunkel Wild, P.C., to Amazon Publishing, or such other higher and/or better bidder as may prevail at auction, in accordance with the provisions of Article 9 of the New York Uniform Commercial Code and the terms and conditions hereinafter set forth, all of the Debtor’s rights, title and interest, to the extent existing, in the following assets of Debtor (collectively, the “Assets”), which constitute a portion of Secured Party’s collateral under the Security Agreement:

(a) all publication contacts regarding certain literary works (collectively, the “Works”) and related outbound license agreements of DP (collectively, the “Contracts”), subject to the purchaser negotiating certain amendments with the authors of the Works in exchange for payment by Amazon Publishing of the full amount of back royalties that DP indicates is owed to those authors as of May 31, 2012; (b) any existing records and correspondence pertaining to the Works (including copies of W-9s and 1099s) and; (c) advances relating to the Works; (d) any existing artwork and all print-ready files, book plates, flats, film negatives, electronic design files, or other production materials relating to the Works; (e) any existing third-party permissions for any third-party materials used in the Works, to the extent transferable; (f) to the extent used in connection with the Works and transferable, all rights in content, copyrights, copyright registrations and copyright applications for print books under the Contracts; (g) available layered pdf files and font sets for each of the Works; to the extent available, title-level metadata for each of the Works acquired by Buyer; (h) certain available print copies of the Works; (i) existing electronic book versions of the Works; and (j) certain vendor and customer list information relating to the Works.

Pursuant to the bid contract for the Assets, DP has also agreed to revert the rights to any Works not assigned to Amazon Publishing following Amazon’s request.

The sale will be held at the offices of Garfunkel Wild, P.C., the Sale Agent, 111 Great Neck Road, 6th Floor, Great Neck, New York, 11021 on August 28, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.(EDT) (the “Auction Date”).

Any competing bids, along with a deposit of at least 20% of the proposed purchase price, must be actually received no later than 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on August 15, 2012 in accordance with the Terms of Sale established by Secured Party. No bids will be accepted unless they comply with the Terms of Sale. General information concerning the Works and the Terms of Sale, may be obtained from Garfunkel Wild, P.C. by contacting Burton S. Weston, Esq. at (516) 393-2588 or bweston@garfunkelwild.com. Requests for specific information, including information concerning inspection of the Works, may be obtained by contacting Norton W. Lazarus of OEM Capital Corp. at 212-983-9500 ext. 115 or nwl@oemcapitalcorp.com; provided however, that except as expressly set forth in the Terms of Sale, the Works are being sold on an “as-is”, “where is” basis without representations, covenants, guarantees or warranties of any kind relating to merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title possession, quiet enjoyment or the like in this disposition. Therefore, potential bidders are encouraged to perform such due diligence, as they deem necessary.

You are entitled to an accounting of the unpaid indebtedness secured by the property that we intend to sell for a charge of $25.00. You may request an accounting by calling us at (516) 393-2588.

The Secured Party reserves the right to bid and reserves the right to refuse or accept any and all bids, reserves the right to adjourn, delay, or terminate the auction or alter or modify the terms thereof without further notice or publication.

Dated: June 27, 2012
Great Neck, New York
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This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as Amazon to Acquire Dorchester (Unless You Are Ready to Outbid Them)

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Authors Guild Takes DOJ to Task for its Price-Fixing Suit Against Publishers

Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, has issued an open letter to the chief of litigation in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, expressing its opposition to the DOJ’s proposed settlement of the price-fixing charges against Apple and several major publishers. We reproduce it in full here.

Richard Curtis

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Authors Guild Takes DOJ to Task for its Price-Fixing Suit Against Publishers

Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, has issued an open letter to the chief of litigation in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, expressing its opposition to the DOJ’s proposed settlement of the price-fixing charges against Apple and several major publishers. We reproduce it in full below.

Richard Curtis

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Feel free to forward or comment. Here it is at our blog: http://tinyurl.com/7rffwdh

The Guild does not support the DOJ’s proposed e-book settlement. We believe it will allow Amazon to resume its predatory pricing practices, discouraging competition in the e-book marketplace. We thank those who have sent their comments on the settlement to the DOJ. Here is the Guild’s Tunney Act filing:

June 25, 2012

John R. Read, Esq.
Chief, Litigation III
Antitrust Division, United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530

Re: United States v. Apple, Inc., et al., 12-cv-2826 (DLC) (SDNY).

Dear Mr. Read,

I’m writing to express the Authors Guild’s firm belief that the proposed settlement of the Justice Department’s lawsuit alleging that five publishers and Apple colluded to introduce agency pricing to the e-book market is not in the public interest. The settlement is flawed by an astonishing provision, specifically requiring three large publishers to allow e-book vendors to routinely sell e-books at below cost, so long as the vendors don’t lose money over the publisher’s entire list of e-books over the course of a year.

The proposal, by allowing targeted predatory pricing of e-books, would give governmental sanction to a practice long considered destructive to a free and fair market. It was precisely this practice – selling frontlist e-books at below cost to discourage and destroy competition – that helped Amazon capture a commanding 90% of the U.S. e-book market. Agency pricing, which the Justice Department believes was introduced through collusion, has allowed Amazon’s competitors to gain a foothold, driving Amazon’s market share down to 60% in two years.

The Justice Department has made clear that it intends to irreversibly reshape the literary market. Allowing Amazon to resume its predatory ways with e-books will likely accomplish that, but not in the way the Justice Department intends. The proposed settlement will almost certainly backfire and harm readers in the long run.

The Justice Department needs to rethink and revise its proposal: it can stop the alleged collusion without requiring publishers to allow Amazon to resume predatory pricing.

The Competitive Landscape: Amazon’s in Control

The Justice Department’s assessment of the literary market offers but a pinhole glimpse of the genuine competitive landscape. Its competitive impact statement fails to discuss the relationship between the print book market and the e-book market, for example, or the critical distinctions between the online book market and the brick-and-mortar market. Most importantly, it fails to mention Amazon’s monopolistic reach and reflexive anticompetitive habits, the dominant features of the current competitive landscape.

Nowhere does the Justice Department’s competitive impact statement discuss the components of Amazon’s monopolistic reach:

• that Amazon held 90% of the market for trade e-books prior to the introduction of the agency model in 2010, and that its e-book market share still stands at roughly 60%;

• that Amazon has long controlled about 75% of the online market for trade books in print form;

• that Amazon’s dominance of the online market for print books gives it control of the market for an estimated 90% of in-print titles, since only a sliver of in-print books (frontlist books and certain backlist titles) have substantial sales in brick-and-mortar stores;

• that Amazon, through its purchase of Audible.com, has control of the fast-growing downloadable audio book market; and

• that Amazon, through a series of acquisitions, has gained control of the online market for used books.
There simply is no growing segment of the book market that Amazon doesn’t dominate.

Even more troubling is the competitive impact statement’s failure to discuss how Amazon uses its command of the online book market and its deep pool of capital to undermine competition. The statement doesn’t point out:

• that Amazon achieved its $9.99 price for e-books from November 2007 through April 2010 (and through today, for many publishers) by selling frontlist titles at a loss, a classic anti-competitive tactic;

• that Amazon managed to undermine its brick-and-mortar competitors while maintaining profitability by selling only a select set of e-books at its below-cost $9.99 price point, focusing its predation on digital editions of the frontlist hardcover books that attract customers to its brick-and-mortar competitors;

• that Amazon removed buy buttons from thousands of “long-tail” books in 2008, in a successful effort to force author focused on-demand publishers to use Amazon’s costly printing service, a maneuver that continues to reduce royalties for thousands of authors, while preventing rivals from effectively competing with Amazon’s author-focused CreateSpace;

• that during Amazon’s showdown with Macmillan over e-book terms in 2010, it retaliated by removing buy buttons not just from Macmillan’s e-books (which would have been fair play in such a business dispute), but from the publisher’s print books as well, tying access to Amazon’s vital print book market to acceptance of Amazon’s preferred e-book terms (the complaint does blandly mention this, without noting the market-tying strategy);

• that Amazon has continuously used its market leverage, in the U.S. and abroad, to dictate terms to its suppliers by removing buy buttons, in at least one instance punishing a recalcitrant British publisher for more than a year;

• that when Amazon entered the e-lending market for public libraries in 2011, it struck an unprecedented deal with OverDrive, the leading e-lending service provider, requiring it to redirect borrowers from their local public library websites to Amazon’s own commercial website and servers, turning thousands of public library websites into virtual storefronts for Amazon, while compromising library patrons’ reading privacy;

• that Amazon, in November 2011, brought its predatory campaign to a new level with its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, offering free e-books to gain a loss-leading competitive advantage for its new tablet, the Kindle Fire; and

• that Amazon has aggressively moved in the past seven months to protect its horizontal control of the online book market through a series of vertical acquisitions, buying exclusive rights to thousands of titles, including Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, Avalon Publishing, and Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, leading to an unprecedented and dangerous balkanization of the literary marketplace.
Each of these acts represents behavior that should set off alarm bells in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Assessing the effects of the proposed settlement without taking these into account is impossible.

Several of these points merit further description, to illustrate the myriad, creative ways in which Amazon leverages its market power to destroy competition.

Amazon, On-Demand Publishing: Making Room for CreateSpace

For years, the Authors Guild staff had heard whispers of Amazon’s buy-button removal tactic as a means of getting publishers to agree to new terms. In January 2008, during the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference, Amazon’s market-denying maneuver hit hundreds of Guild members, as it removed the buy buttons from more one thousand books in the Guild’s Backinprint.com program.

The Guild had launched Backinprint.com in the summer of 1999, allowing authors for the first time to republish their out-of-print books without incurring any set-up costs. (The Guild had negotiated an agreement with on-demand publisher iUniverse to prepare the books for on-demand printing.) The service was an immediate hit with members; within two years, more than 1,000 titles were available to readers again, including books by Mary McCarthy, Thornton Wilder, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Victor Navasky. The books, all of which had fallen out of print after being published by traditional U.S. publishers, are among the more than one million in-print books that make up bookselling’s “long-tail,” low sales-volume works that rarely appear on bookstore shelves. Long-tail books, more than any other, depend on virtual bookstores: Amazon largely defines their market.

Sales of all on-demand books grew steadily in the early 2000s. By 2005, sales of on-demand books had reached a new high. Backinprint titles sold 41,000 units that year. Amazon, the storefront for most on-demand sales, took notice. It purchased BookSurge, an on-demand printer, to compete with Lightning Source, the industry-leading on-demand printing service run by Ingram.

Three years later, however, few on-demand publishers had moved their printing to BookSurge. Small wonder, since it charged more for its printing services than Lightning Source and had a reputation of offering lower quality service. So Amazon turned to aggressive tactics to win market share, reportedly removing the buy buttons from all iUniverse titles during the 2008 AWP conference. Author Solutions, which had acquired iUniverse, saw its sales plummet. It quickly agreed to use BookSurge for its Amazon sales, and Amazon restored access to its millions of customers.

While a traumatic event for iUniverse, the episode went unnoticed in the book world, which was focused on Amazon’s November 2007 introduction of the Kindle, with its predatory pricing scheme for select frontlist books. Even our members with books in the program took no notice, because when Amazon removes a buy button from a book’s sales page, the sales page looks almost identical to a page for an out-of-print or out-of-stock book. Reports of Amazon’s strong-arming of on-demand publishers didn’t surface for more than a month, in March 2008, with reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

Amazon got away with this gambit, suffering barely a scrape. On-demand publisher Booklocker did file a class action lawsuit in Maine against Amazon over the episode. After Amazon’s motion to dismiss failed, Amazon quietly settled the suit for a reported $300,000 in attorneys’ fees. Amazon has doubtless earned back those fees many times over. Thousands of authors continue to see their on-demand royalties reduced by ten to fifteen percent as a result of Amazon’s squeeze. (This wasn’t a maneuver justified by efficiencies that ultimately benefit consumers, incidentally. Amazon appears to sell the books at precisely the same price as other online retailers. Amazon just makes more money at it than they do.)

More importantly and profitably to Amazon, by forcing iUniverse and other author centered on-demand service providers to use BookSurge, Amazon severely constrained effective competition for its own author centered on-demand service provider, which became known as CreateSpace in 2009. Amazon’s vertical integration of on-demand printing eliminated the ability of iUniverse, PublishAmerica, XLibris and others to offer authors better royalties when selling through Amazon. CreateSpace appears to have thrived ever since.

Amazon’s Exercise of Its Buy Button “Nuclear Option”

In June 2008, Doreen Carvajal of the New York Times called buy-button removal “the literary equivalent of a nuclear option for rebellious publishers who balk at [Amazon’s] demands.” Ms. Carvajal was discussing Amazon’s removal of buy buttons in the United Kingdom from hundreds of Bloomsbury titles while in negotiations with the publisher.

The Authors Guild began preparing for the next incident, which everyone in the industry knew would come. Since stealth appeared to be a significant weapon for Amazon (authors may not notice, if the incident is over quickly enough, and publishers are fearful of blowing the whistle), the Guild hired developers to build a tool to e-mail authors when Amazon removed one of their buy buttons. When Amazon removed the buy buttons from Macmillan’s print and digital books in January 2010, the Guild launched the tool through a dedicated website, WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com.

Amazon’s buy button removal campaign persists unabated. Independent Publishers Group markets and distributes titles from independent publishing houses to the book trade at large. When IPG’s Amazon contract came up for renewal in 2012, Amazon pressured IPG for more favorable terms. When IPG resisted, Amazon took down all IPG e-books from its site. After X months, IPG came to terms, etc.

Amazon and E-Lending by Public Libraries

In September 2011, Amazon entered an arrangement with OverDrive, the largest supplier of e-books and audio books to public libraries, making possible e-book library lending through the Kindle device. OverDrive’s implementation of the Kindle lending program, pursuant to its agreement with Amazon, required it to redirect patrons to Amazon’s servers. A columnist for the Los Angeles Times compared it to “walking into your public library then finding yourself at the Target checkout counter.” No other e-book vendor has such an arrangement.

Amazon Pursues Its Own “Monopoly Over Its Titles:” the Balkanization of the Literary Marketplace

Since its e-terms battle with Macmillan in January 2010, during which Amazon protested that it had to “capitulate” due to Macmillan’s “monopoly over its titles,” Amazon has turned toward pursuing its own monopoly. With the launch of the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s drive to acquire exclusive rights to books, by acquiring publishers with substantial backlists and other arrangements, has taken on a new urgency.

In September 2011, Amazon’s acquired the exclusive digital rights to one hundred popular DC Comics graphic novels. If a customer wanted to read any of these on an e-device, it had to be on a Kindle Fire. Barnes & Noble, trying to break into the e-device market with its Nook, retaliated by pulling all print copies of DC Comics titles from its shelves. Books-a-Million, the third largest bookseller, followed suit. “As Amazon seeks over the next few years to expand its tablet line,” predicted the New York Times, “these collisions over content are likely to become routine.”

Amazon is moving quickly. In December, Amazon entered the children’s book market, acquiring more than 450 titles of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. In April, Amazon announced it had acquired the exclusive North American rights to publish Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels — in both digital and print formats. Earlier this month, Amazon expanded its holdings of genre fiction, purchasing the publisher Avalon Books and the exclusive rights to its 3,000-title backlist of romance, mystery and Western fiction.

Balkanization of the literary market is something new and deeply troubling. “Bookstores used to pride themselves on never removing any book from their shelves,” reported the Times, “but that tradition—born in battles over censorship—is fading as competitive struggles increase.” Awful as it is for our literary culture, the balkanization of the book market is but a logical extension of Amazon’s no-prisoners approach to competition.

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon lagged Barnes & Noble by a full year in developing an e-reading tablet. While Barnes & Noble prepared to roll out its second-generation tablet, Amazon prepared to introduce its first, the Kindle Fire. To gain an advantage, Amazon proposed to do something Barnes & Noble couldn’t afford to do: give away e-books, including front list e-books, for free.

So in November 2011, shortly before Amazon began shipping its Kindle Fire, Amazon also introduced its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allowed Amazon Prime members to download onto their Kindles any of more than 5,000 titles, at the time of it was announced. Customers are limited to one book per month and one book at a time — when a new book is downloaded, the old one disappears from the Kindle.

Amazon approached the six largest U.S. trade book publishers to seek their participation in the program. By all accounts, each refused. Publishers weren’t eager to allow Amazon to undermine the economics of the e-book market, representing the lone bright spot for the industry. So books from the six largest trade publishers were not in the Lending Library program.

Amazon’s attempts to enlist the next tier of U.S. trade book publishers, major publishers that are slightly smaller than the Big Six, fared no better. Many, perhaps all, also refused. No matter. Amazon simply disregarded these publishers’ wishes, and enrolled many of their titles in the program anyway. Some of these publishers learned of Amazon’s unilateral decision as the first news stories about the program appeared.

The use of publishers’ books without permission was due to a tortured reading of its boilerplate contracts with publishers. Amazon decided that it didn’t need the publishers’ permission, because, as Amazon saw it, its contracts with these publishers merely required it to pay publishers the wholesale price of the books that Amazon Prime customers download. By reasoning this way, Amazon claimed it could sell e-books at any price, even giving them away, so long as publishers are paid.

From our understanding of Amazon’s standard contractual terms, this is nonsense — publishers did not surrender this level of control to the retailer. Amazon’s boilerplate terms specifically contemplate the sale of e-books—not giveaways, subscriptions, or lending. Amazon can make other uses of e-books only with the publishers consent. In other words, Amazon was boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers. This was an exercise of brute economic power: Amazon knew it could largely dictate terms to non-agency publishers, and it badly wanted to launch the Lending Library program with some notable titles.

So Amazon did just that, conscripting publishers into a predatory pricing business model that substituted cash for genuine innovation, further undermining the economics of brick-and-mortar bookstores along the way.

The Justice Department, through this settlement, would deliver the lists of three large publishers into Amazon’s predatory scheme. Unless competitors are willing to forego nearly all profits from these publishers, the Kindle will likely have an unmatchable competitive advantage.

Conclusion

Of all the possible remedies to the collusion the Justice Department alleges, requiring three large publishers to allow Amazon to sell e-books at a loss is among the most destructive of competition that one could imagine.

Amazon’s tactic of selective predatory pricing of frontlist e-books was far more anti-competitive than the Justice Department has acknowledged. It effectively cut brick-and-mortar retailers – logical participants in a bricks-and-clicks, showroom approach to marketing e-books – out of the game. The retailers would need a partner willing to invest substantial amounts to develop and market an e-reader, e-commerce site, and accompanying software. What partner would dare invest, with Amazon plainly willing to earn little or nothing from e-books? (Google’s commitment to independent bookstores always seemed half-hearted, and now it’s backing out.) From Amazon’s perspective, the best competitor is one that never dares enter the field.

Amazon has engaged in baldly anticompetitive practices for years. Its approach to destroying competition is sophisticated, data-driven, and endlessly creative. What other company would have thought to arm smart-phone users with a price-checking app then reward them for turning on their phones’ geo-location function and report pricing data to Amazon in the height of the holiday season? (Up to five dollars from Amazon, every time you deny your local retailer a sale. One Saturday only; limit three per Amazon customer.) It’s utterly brilliant, and a game only the richest of corporations can play.

Amazon really doesn’t need the Justice Department’s help. For the sake of free and fair competition, for the sake of readers who would like many companies to invest in better e-reading devices, software, and even in bookstores that one can visit on a weekend, please find another way to address the collusion you believe you’ve uncovered.

Respectfully,

Paul Aiken
Executive Director
The above blog post was issued on Digital Book World as Guild Slams DOJ Action – “Will Harm Readers in the Long Run”

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Rumors of Amazon Retail Bookstore? Don’t Believe Them

Shame on Forbes.  We thought they were a thoughtful business publication but in spreading  rumors without an ounce of foundation or attribution they make washerwomen look martyrs for truth.

The tittle-tattle in question is that Amazon is developing plans for a retail bookstore or chain.  Even the headline, Why Amazon’s Rumored Retail Bookstore Will Be Huge, dignifies the gossip with an unqualified future tense of the verb, as if the building is all but completed and about to open the doors to its first customers.  (“Get ready for the rollout,” says Forbes.)

Among fatuities on display in Forbes‘s article are these:

“First off, if the rumors are correct, Amazon has the most important part of the plan right — it’s thinking small boutique store, not giant superstore. Big rent is what killed many of the bookstore chains.” [A boutique store for its millions of titles?]

“A physical Amazon bookstore addresses one of the biggest problems in brick-and-mortar retailing today — the mind-numbing sameness of product. You go through a mall, and it’s the same clothes, the same gadgets, and in bookstores, the same books.” [Why all books in stores are the same, and why Amazon’s books will be different from those displayed in, say, Barnes & Noble, is not articulated.]

“With its emphasis on its exclusive booklist, Amazon also presents an alternative to traditional bookstores rather than a direct competitor. Sure, some visitors will buy Tom Clancy for the Kindle while they’re there.” [Why is a customer going to a physical store to buy books for the Kindle?]

“Amazon’s idea has the potential to reinvigorate the entire bookstore sector, and grow interest in reading in general. That could lift the surviving indie bookstores, too, particularly those that take the hint and innovate.” [What surviving indie bookstores?]

“It could just be a media-grabbing, one-shot flagship store. It could even be a seasonal holiday store that’s gone come January.” [We have no comment. Indeed, words fail us.]

After a strategy of undercutting retailers, when chains and independent stores of all kinds are dropping like flies, why on earth would Amazon would go into the brick and mortar business? Come on, Forbes, you’re a business publication, you know better than that.

If Amazon did want to have a physical bookstore presence the only strategy that might make sense is a chain of print on demand kiosks combining the company’s greatest strengths, brilliant technology and limitless inventory, in a relatively modest space. But Espresso-type printers would have to shrink to  desktop dimensions.

You want a rumor to monger, Forbes?  Try this one: POD Kiosks Coming Soon (to Your Local Truck Stop)

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Brick and Mortar Amazon Bookstore? No Way

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John Norman Previews “Conspirators” (Gor #31), Coming in July

In July E-Reads will be releasing Conspirators of Gor, the 31st novel in John Norman’s bestselling fantasy series. The following introductory remarks have been supplied by John Norman.

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I am uneasy, and, to some extent, fear the Gorean narratives. Would you not do so, even if you, rather than I, were their editor? Surely they are fiction, but perhaps a strange fiction, an anomalous fiction, for the day. Why do they not, reflexively and mindlessly, wisely, prudentially, preach the ideology of reward and acclaim? Are such things not important, not essential? Are the routine formulas so difficult to detect, and the political requirements so obscure? What is different about the Gorean books? Surely the truths they whisper, if truths they be, are small enough, and unimportant enough, and innocent enough, to note. One leaves the drums and trumpets to the leaders of parades. One goes elsewhere, hopefully unnoticed. One sets sail for different worlds. Perhaps the Gorean books, in their small way, are too real. They must be fiction. I will have it no other way. But, have you not sensed, once perhaps, the bracing air of the Voltai, smelled the landward salt wind of turbulent Thassa on a cold beach, seen the long, winding roads, with their deep ruts, carved in stone over a thousand years, and feared the shadows of the northern forests? The world must be one of fiction, but, too, one notes strange footprints on the beach, and one wonders what has passed, and recently. The edges of those footprints are very sharp.

This book, Conspirators of Gor, interestingly, was apparently, originally, written not for us, but for Goreans. If the book is read, how this is so will be clear. It deals with the contest of two forms of life, the monstrous Kurii, who once destroyed their own world and now seek another, and the mysterious Priest-Kings, largely indifferent and passive, whose domain and habitat is a vast subterranean nest in what we might call the Antichthon, or Counter-Earth. The Priest-Kings are concerned to protect not only Gor but Earth. The Gorean novels, I might suppose, if they were not fiction, might be intended to warn those of Earth of this contest, at least to ready them for such an understanding. The current novel, Conspirators of Gor, which we have here in English, might have a similar intent, with respect to Goreans. But, it seems reasonably clear that Goreans will take this intelligence, if it be an intelligence, no more seriously than many of Earth would, similarly apprised of alleged dangers. Perhaps, in both cases, that is just as well.

The story is told from the point of view of a young woman whose name was once Allison Ashton-Baker, before being carried to the markets of Gor.

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Microsoft Tablet – AGAIN?

They say that the third time is the charm. But the 430,344th?

At least it feels like that’s how many times Microsoft has launched a tablet, not counting the one that was launched to promote the company’s new Windows 8 operating system and compete with Apple’s iPad despite the latter’s modest lead – a mere 100 million sold.

A decade ago Microsoft told us a tablet was on the way and produced a slick demo showing doctors making hospital rounds with tablets and pianists reading a score on a tablet propped up where the sheet music usually goes.

But alas, in February 2011 I wrote, “Year after year I waited for Microsoft’s tablet to sweep the country but it never happened.”

Why? In a candid New York Times op-ed column Dick Brass, a former MS vice president from 1997 to 2004, wrote, “Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation.”  (See Microsoft Snoozed Its Way Through Tablet Revolution, Says Former Veep)

In January 2010 – predating the release of the Apple’s iPad by three weeks – MS introduced the HP tablet. But it laid an egg. Here’s PC World’s take on it: “The HP tablet is basically a color e-reader running Amazon Kindle software, with few other details besides a sub-$500 price point and an estimated arrival on the market by mid-2010. So disappointing was the release that Microsoft and HP’s shares fell yesterday according to Business Week.”

Microsoft had a chance to redeem itself with the Courier, but it too flopped and not long after release Microsoft threw in the towel and said it would no longer support it.

Then in December 2011, we wearily wrote Microsoft Re-re-re-relaunches Tablet. The new device, manufactured by Samsung, was to be “similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, although it is not as thin,” wrote Nick Bolton of the New York Times.

You’ll understand, therefore, why our eyes glaze over to read that yet again Microsoft is going to give tablets a go. But who knows? The 430,344th time may well be the charm.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Microsoft Tablet – Needs Only 100 Million Sales to Surpass iPad

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Literati Holdouts Yield to E-Book Allure: Why?

After stubbornly resisting conversion of their work into e-books, J. K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, Judy Blume and, most recently, Thomas Pynchon, finally succumbed.  What persuaded them?

Cynics will say they sold out, surrendering to the siren song of riches as e-sales exceed p-sales for a growing number of authors, giving an adrenalin boost to dwindling fortunes.  Certainly the writer who does not respond positively to that song falls into Dr. Johnson’s classic characterization of “Blockhead”.

But is money their only motive?  Did these men and women of the highest integrity simply sell their souls for a pot of lucre?  Or was there some other reason they heeded the call to go digital?

A personal anecdote may shed light on why they did it. Over a decade ago the e-book company I founded, E-Reads, generated its very first royalty statements, and sales were modest indeed.  I happened to be having lunch with one of the authors who had put her book into our program, and when she asked how her novel was selling, I embarrassedly produced her statement.  “We sold one copy.”

She gazed at the statement, with its meager single-digit performance, for a long time. Then she looked up wistfully at me.  “I wonder who that person is.”

I’ve never forgotten her response, for it brought home to me the true, the only, reason that writers write: to be read. The money, the royalties, the fortunes even, are undeniably wonderful byproducts.  But ultimately the argument that clinches it for the holdouts is simple: You will reach more readers.

We need to be reminded, as I was that day, that writers write for love and would do it for nothing as long as someone – literally some one – were out there to read their work.

Details in After Long Resistance, Pynchon Allows Novels to Be Sold as E-Books by Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Why Literary Elite Finally Say Yes to E-Books

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Israeli Antitrust Bookselling Law Could be a Light to the Nations

What happens when a big retail bookstore also happens to be a book publisher? Well, in order to drive out competition the publisher can price its books below cost. The collateral damage to the author and reader community can be devastating. The reduced list price means a commensurate cut in royalty paid to authors. Independent bookstores are driven out of business. And without independent stores, less prosperous customers no longer have access to the books they seek.

Does this sound like a familiar pattern?  Yes – except it’s taking place in Israel.  And, unlike the reluctance of American and other governments to roll back predatory practices, Israeli lawmakers are proposing strong measures to restore fair trade.

Maya Sela of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports a bill making its way through the country’s legislature stating that “books cannot be sold for less than their list price for the first 18 months after publication.” The bill also “sets minimum royalties to be paid to authors during that period.”

The minister sponsoring the bill described the current situation, in which the country’s two major bookstore chains have been beating each other’s brains out with loss leaders, “intolerable. Books are devalued when they are sold for less than it costs to print them. This is abnormal and illogical.”

It seems illogical to us too but it’s hard to imagine legislation as enlightened as the Israelis’ to be adopted anywhere else. But who knows?  Maybe the law will serve as a light to other nations?  It wouldn’t be the first time.

The bill was endorsed by the committee that drafted it and now goes to the Knesset for a vote.

Details in Bill to protect Israeli authors’ income wins government backing

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Discount.

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The Books They Left Behind

For some of us, acquiring advance reading copies at Book Expo America is an exercise in discernment. For others it is more like an athletic event, and for still other it is a blood sport. While the majority of visitors strolls the aisles at a leisurely pace thumbing interesting-looking galleys, bagging some and returning others to their stacks or politely declining the importunities of hopeful young editors, other attendees approach the process like a military operation whose objective is pillage, and who strip the book piles to the carpet like a Biblical horde of locusts.

These marauders have done their homework and mapped their game plans. Studying BEA bulletins, they know which galleys will be offered by which publishers and at what hours they will be released; they have plotted paths through the aisles and noted the booth numbers; they have armed themselves with multiple shopping bags of vast capacity and even wheeled suitcases; they arrive long before the doors open and stand at the foot of the escalators waiting like sprinters for the signal to ascend to the Expo floor.

The moment arrives and the guard steps aside. They stride, rather than glide, up the escalator and hit the floor running. They descend on their objective like well-trained soldiers. They snatch galleys indiscriminately from geometrically stacked piles and hurl them into their bags and carry-ons, check their maps and race to the next destination. Within minutes they have plundered the booths of their wares. When their sacks are replete they scuttle to a corner of the hall and sort through their swag. What they don’t want they surreptitiously leave behind. You may see these piles of discards all over the conference floor. Literally, the floor, reminding one of the empty wallets tossed away by pickpockets after removing the cash and credit cards.

It can be instructive to examine these piles of abandoned books, for they are the earliest harbingers of judgments to be rendered by reviewers and readers. On a few occasions, strollers will examine the galleys and glean one, reaffirming the adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

What happens to the books that those buccaneers have kept for themselves? Do they read them? Sell them? Donate them to libraries? We just don’t know. And those books left on the floor? Our hearts go out to their authors and editors. Indeed, our hearts go out to the books themselves, for they are like children standing unclaimed and forlorn while their parents race through a department store in the opening moments of Black Friday.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as BEA’s Orphaned ARCs.

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