There have been a lot of blogs lately about the letter the Association of Authors Representatives (AAR) sent to the Department of Justice regarding their recent ruling against price fixing on ebooks. Several publishing houses along with Apple, got their wrists slapped hard for colluding and setting higher than reasonable prices on ebooks. The ruling is good for readers and authors alike. Lower prices usually mean more sales, for one. For another, this whole business has brought to light the archaic accounting systems and practices the publishers have been getting away with for decades. Hopefully, if the DOJ gets into those accounting files and audits their books they’ll be as outraged as authors have been for years.
The fact that agents have actually supported the publishing houses and protested to the DOJ, has left me shaking my head like a bobble-head dog again.
I’m not going to reprint the letter here, but if you want a detailed analysis, check out Joe Konrath’s blog http://jakonrath.blogspot.ca/2012/05/aar-fail.html where he not only reprints the letter, but tears it apart in a great analysis paragraph by paragraph. Another informative blog to read is The Passive Voice, where Passive Guy has blogged lately about agents too http://www.thepassivevoice.com/05/2012/bizarre-misunderstanding-of-e-book-business/. They’ve done a great job chopping the actual letter, as well as the idiot who wrote it, off at the knees, so I won’t repeat much of it here, just the stuff that makes my eye twitch and my fangs grow.
Agents are supposed to work FOR authors. They’re supposed to look out for OUR best interests, to negotiate contracts in OUR favor and by getting US the best deal possible, they naturally improve their own finances since they get 15% of what we make. So why would they protest a settlement that goes against price fixing? Why would they claim to represent thousands of authors who want to see ebooks remain for sale at a higher price than their print versions?
Are they stuck in stupid or just stuck so far up the publisher’s asses they can’t see daylight?
There was a time when agents did what they were supposed to do. They fought for their authors, negotiated strong contracts, got better advances, better terms, boldly stroked out immoral and disgusting clauses like basket accounting. Some of the top agents were revered and respected and could make editors and publishers tremble at the sound of their voices on the other end of the phone.
Those days slipped away with the first big recession. Suddenly editors, VP’s, and presidents of publishing houses found themselves out of work. Publishing houses merged or were bought out by larger conglomerates. Smaller imprints vanished along with the scores of authors who wrote specifically for those lines. Big Name authors still expected their Big Author Advances, so publishers had to scramble to find the money, and their midlist authors took the hit. Those who weren’t cut completely were offered smaller advances and were told they were lucky to still get a contract. Ever wonder why so many authors who were popular in the 80’s and 90’s suddenly vanished?
Agents no longer made the walls tremble. They took the paltry offers to their authors and passed along the same message: that we were lucky to get a contract at all. Those revered and respected agents started turning into slick-haired used car salesmen…smiling and nodding and saying what a great deal we were getting despite the fact the car had no tires and the engine had a clunking sound.
In all my years of writing, (over 30…augh!) I’ve never once heard of an agent who publicly questioned the archaic accounting practices of publishing houses. Oh, they sympathized with us in private and shook their heads and muttered a bit, but none of the hundreds of agents out there, those who boldly called themselves Authors Representatives…none of them ever banded together to get rid of the outdated and underhanded accounting practices of publishing houses. None of them ever sought to start some sort of protest against the twice yearly paycheques…I mean, after all, if we authors were only paid twice a year, so were they. And by necessity, in order for them to make a living off our meager 15%, that meant they had to have hundreds of authors in their “stable” (and yes, that’s what it is called, pun probably intended) in order for THEM to make a living.
None of them rocked the boat. To my way of thinking, none of them really stood up for authors rights or the system would have been overhauled a decade or two ago. But after the major bloodletting that came with the recession, it seems to me as though if they still had one Big Name Author as the cash cow, the agents had no reason to upset the dingy. Certainly no reason to anger publishers who could cut them out of the picture as easily and swiftly as they cut all those authors. You wanted to negotiate tougher terms? Piss off and find another publisher. Supply and demand. There were suddenly hundreds of midlist authors scrambling to find new publishers, and the power was all with the publishers. They didn’t have to chase after authors or lure them with bigger, better perks. The authors, via their agents, were chasing after them and willing to settle for almost any terms.
Along came Amazon. Along came the Kindle reader. Along came Apple’s iPad and Sony and Kobo and Barnes and Noble with their Nook ereaders and suddenly authors had another outlet. We had another option. We didn’t have to follow the rules anymore because…hell, there were no rules. Amazon pays monthly. Amazon gives daily accounting of the numbers of books sold. Amazon gives authors the lion’s share of the royalties because…well…geez, guys, because WE write the damn books! WE do the majority of the work. WE produce the stories that have kept the publishing houses in business all these years. Without us, there would BE no publishers, there would be no agents, there would be nothing to read. Period.
So now, suddenly, publishers are falling on their swords and blaming Big Bad Amazon. They ARE stuck in stupid and not seeing that Amazon is only doing what Publishers should have been doing for the past few decades: they pay us fairly for our work and they pay us on time. Publishers still think of us as slave labor, peasants who should be grateful for the crumbs tossed our way every six months. And agents? They’re in a panic too because they’ve seen the writing on the wall. Authors who self publish don’t need them. And authors who still publish in print are eventually going to get smarter, wiser, and hopefully grow some balls now that they know they DO have options. They don’t HAVE to settle anymore. They don’t HAVE to sign on that dotted line.
The argument comes flying back that not all self published authors are going to sell enough on their own to make a living. Well, neither are all authors who sign with publishing houses. Not the way the royalty schedules and payment terms exist up to now. Not with the creative accounting the traditional publishers practice. Not when publishing houses don’t have to account for what they sell and when they sell it. Not when they can use basket accounting and get away with it. Not when they can use “reserves against returns” as a catch phrase to delay paying out monies earned. Not when there is no way short of a full forensic audit to know exactly how many books they sell.
I said in a previous blog that I would be interested to read my royalty statements for the three Scotland books. They arrived the other day and according to Dell’s accounting department, my three best selling books have sold a total of 3000 ebooks over the past six months. That’s combined. Total. Seriously. My big paycheque for the six months, should I have been waiting patiently to pay my mortgage and pay down some of my post-divorce debts…was a staggering $3,600.00. Woo farking hoo. (And just to drive a point home, those same 3000 books, sold for an average of $10.99 by the publisher through Amazon, earned THEM $22,890.00)
Do I believe the numbers they sent me? Not for one effing minute. Could I possibly survive, keep my house, put food on the table, buy clothes, feed my dog, keep a car, even put gas in the lawnmower for the staggering sum of $3,600.00 every six months?????? Could you? Could any one of those hundreds of Author Representives who protested the DOJ’s ruling against the publishing houses price fixing?
Let them walk a mile in my shoes. That way I can run faster and farther barefoot when they chase after me wailing and whining that they can’t do it.